Not making fun of other religions

The newsroom just released (or re-released as I’ve seen parts of it before) a video “Explaining How Members Can Defend Their Religious Freedom.” As I was watching it, specifically the quote below, I became a bit uncomfortable:

Why? Well just a few months ago, in May 2015, Elder Robbins of the Seventy gave the CES Devotional. In it, he says this:

Notice the laughter? The laughter after “Light a candle and pray for the dead” and Elder Robbins off-the-cuff joking about it to the entire CES audience watching?

If we are truly going to practice what we preach regarding “Not criticizing other religions, not making fun of other religions, teaching your children to respect other religions, learning about your friends’ religious beliefs” we need to do some work, some fast work at not allowing anything like what Elder Robbins said to ever happen again.

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    As an example of the Church getting it right, see this article from last November’s Friend Magazine that treats the practice of lighting candles with admirable respect:

    https://www.lds.org/friend/2014/11/prayers-and-cathedrals

  2. Oops. Elder Robbins must have missed the memo since he thought he should still preach the “us against them,” or maybe the “too bad no one is as awesome as we are” doctrine.

  3. So long as we want to preach LDS exceptionalism, that will always lend itself to comparing other religions unfavorably. That is the nature of the beast. I see no need to single out Elder Robbins for doing what has been done for generations in our Church. I don’t see the Church backing down from exceptionalism claims any time soon, nor should it — we are something special. So we need to decide how much weight to really give to the injunction to treat other religions with respect. Unfortunately, the ‘respect’ injunction is frequently seen in generalized religious freedom debates, which appears to be self-serving: we say “respect all religions” but it comes off as “respect our religions, especially ours please”.

    I believe quite sincerely that the Brethren want us to treat all religions with respect. But the Brethren are also quite clear that our church is the one true church, restored by God through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Treating all religions with respect doesn’t mean treating them as equally valid.

  4. Jason K. says:

    While you’re right, Steve, that we’re going to continue making exceptionalist claims, I still think there’s value in learning enough about other religions to represent their positions fairly. OTOH, humans tend not to be very good at representing Others fairly, so I suppose some management of expectations is in order.

  5. I think we can respect other religions without giving up our one-true-church-ness. We actually have a great model for doing so in Joseph Smith’s quote incorporating other faith’s best practices. But I will single out Elder Robbins for the way he crossed the line with the making fun, encouraging laughter, and calling these practices the “opposite” of our celestial doctrines.

    I’d actually like a formal apology to the CES youth of the church but we don’t really do that.

  6. Steve, the PowerPoint contrasting bullets were an example of exceptionalism–possibly irritating but as you point out something that should be fair game if we are going to believe in exceptionalism. But what EmJen is calling attention to isn’t the bullet list presented in an informational way, but the laughter and needless disrespect. She makes a fair point on that count.

  7. Was the laughter his fault, or the fault of an immature audience? I don’t think Elder Robbins is above all criticism but I do believe our leaders should be afforded some deference and respect.

  8. A Catholic friend and I were talking about the Catholic doctrine of intercessory prayer (praying for the dead) and she asked if Mormons did anything like that. So I told her about baptism for the dead and we had a good conversation discussing how they were flip-sides of the same coin. It was a great discussion and we both felt uplifted afterward. I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to compare/contrast our religion with others – the key was that we were discussing our beliefs and trying to find common ground between them, not establish which one was better.

  9. I really appreciated Peter’s response and analysis to Elder Robbins’ talk a couple of months ago:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/05/15/contrasting-truth-with-its-opposite/

    My comments here would be identical to what I wrote there. To wit:

    “I am saddened that Elder Robbins took this approach of comparing and contrasting, including through use of caricature and ridicule, to make what could otherwise have been a very good, useful, and enlightening point.

    “I expressed my own view about this kind of approach a few months ago in a post here at BCC:

    “‘I have been appalled many times and embarrassed for us as a people when listening to how some of our members (and leaders) describe (or rather, misrepresent) the religious beliefs and practices of others in lessons, talks, or casual conversations. We unfortunately exhibit a lack of respect and appreciation that parallels or surpasses that displayed by others when talking about us. And I have been very guilty of that myself, many times, both before deciding to incorporate Bishop Stendahl’s vision of Holy Envy into my own worldview and even, sadly, still after doing so helped me to develop a deep and abiding love for the sincere religious devotion of other faiths, including perhaps especially high church liturgy and music. And, of course, I have seen the same thing many, many times as adherents of other faiths attempt to discuss or explain our beliefs and practices as Latter-day Saints. More often than not, they do not focus on our best but rather on our worst, and their descriptions rely heavily on caricature’ (https://bycommonconsent.com/2014/11/25/transcending-mere-toleration-in-novembers-friend-magazine/).

    “Unfortunately, Elder Robbins has set himself up as the equivalent of a Baptist mega-church pastor giving his congregation information about Mormons in order to contrast that information with something he wants to present as Mormons being false and Baptists being true.

    “No Mormon in his or her right mind would lend any credence to a Baptist preacher’s self-serving and uninformed description of Mormon beliefs given for the purpose of contrasting them with the Baptist perspective of truth. Should we take Elder Robbins’ spin on the teachings he is contrasting as more credible or reliable than the Baptist preacher’s?

    “Suffice it to say that the very least we should realize is that we should take caution in accepting or adopting the views of people (even if they happen to be a Seventy in our Church) who literally know nothing about other faiths but who pontificate about them.

    “Elder Robbins certainly had the best of intentions and I agree with Elder Robbins that we enjoy many unique Truths in the Restoration that are not recognized by other believers. But this type of “first caricature, then compare” approach violates Stendahl’s principles of Holy Envy and is frankly unacceptable from our leaders. We should expect more, hold our leaders as carriers of God’s authority and message to a much, much higher standard than sectarian tit for tat.

    “And the laughs from the audience? Shocking and shameful.” (https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/05/15/contrasting-truth-with-its-opposite/#comment-351827)

    And this:

    “Elder Robbins’ talk, however well intentioned (and I do not doubt his good intentions and his sincere devotion/belief — what I do doubt is that he really knows anything beyond caricature about any other religion, let alone our devout Catholic brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ), straightforwardly violates Bishop Krister Stendahl’s three Rules of Religious Understanding (which have been tacitly endorsed by Elder Robbins’ own hero, President Packer — http://youtu.be/69DkoG-m8Ag):

    “1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies. [1:08 in the video]

    “In this case, unfortunately, Elder Robbins set us up as the “enemies” of other religions in giving this kind of caricatured information about them.

    “2. Don’t compare your best to their worst. [1:29 in the video]

    “Elder Robbins’ list of bullet points very clearly portrays “their” beliefs in the worst and most caricatured light possible.

    “3. Leave room for ‘holy envy.’ [1:50 in the video] (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

    “There is no trace of Holy Envy in this talk. Rather, there is a aura of ridicule similar to what we receive in many treatments by other Christians. We should definitely not be playing that same game; should set ourselves up to a much higher standard.” (https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/05/15/contrasting-truth-with-its-opposite/#comment-351829)

    And finally, most importantly, in my opinion:

    Another thing: those things that Elder Robbins listed, even in the caricatured form he used, are NOT the “opposite” of Truth. If they are lesser knowledge, that is not the opposite of Truth. Instead, if anything, it is a devout position of faith that can be added unto. In some instances, I think there is a good argument that the thing that Elder Robbins was criticizing is not even doctrinally wrong but merely practiced somewhat differently.” (https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/05/15/contrasting-truth-with-its-opposite/#comment-351830)

    In any event, one stinker of a talk should not undermine a Church leader’s calling or stewardship. In my opinion, we are stronger as a people and culture if we feel “allowed” to make the kinds of observations about this talk that the original post makes, that Peter makes, and that I have made in my quoted comments above. I realize that a number of Mormons, particularly in the “Bloggernacle”, do not agree with this and believe that members should not critically assess talks by Church leaders. That is a weaker position, in my view. Nevertheless, I hope we can sympathize with Elder Robbins on having fallen down on some aspects of this talk (though overall points in the talk are valid, useful, and important, and, yes, we are different from other religions and we should emphasize those differences, where appropriate, to make clear why people should look seriously at us for the Restored Gospel on offer through the Church and the ordinances that we perform in the Church through the restored Priesthood power) and continue to sustain him and assist him where possible in his surely very stressful calling.

  10. I think we can respect other religions without giving up our one-true-church-ness.

    I don’t know if Steve would be interested in his argument being extended in this way, but his observation regarding religious exceptionalism that “comparing other religions unfavorably [to ourselves]…is the nature of the beast” correlates very well with the data that Putnam and Campbell compiled in their book American Grace, and shows exactly how hard what you’re suggesting, Emily, appears to be in practice. Look at the level of American Mormon devotion to doctrines of exceptionalism (“one true church,” etc.), and note how it correlates to familiarity with or contact with other religious traditions, or even just other people who adhere to other religions. Sure, there are numerous other variables at work (the demographic concentration of Mormons, the social effects of being members of time-intensive church body, etc.), but still, it really does seem that, for the majority of American Mormons anyway, a strong commitment to “one-true-church-ness” really does make high levels of sympathy for or even awareness of other religions harder to achieve.

  11. Angela C says:

    I’d love to see an analysis of the laugh lines that are thrown around that are like this one, making light of what others consider sacred or mischaracterizing things the speaker doesn’t understand (e.g. the Big Bang theory). Personally, I think it’s unsavory to pander to the audience’s baser instincts. But there goes blogging too.

  12. Robbins’s ignorance and offensiveness in this instance is in setting the wrong things in binary opposition. The opposite of baptism for the dead is not lighting candles for the dead — I do both things — it is believing there is no life after the grave. This talk was just pandering claptrap of the most unimaginative kind.

  13. yes, Ronan, that is exactly true.

  14. Jason K. says:

    Right, Ronan. If our claims to exceptionalism are to be meaningful, they can’t just be aimed at straw men.

  15. Steve, I always appreciate your attempt to extend deference and respect although I think it’s ill deserved in this case. The nervous laughter of the audience is in response to a patently ridiculous false dichotomy which he posits by saying “That is the only other option”.

    His talk is replete with pedagogical injustices inflicted on his audience, and as long as exceptionalism is preached there will be those of us who keep pointing out the instances when the preachers make that exceptionalism less plausible.

  16. A perhaps better example of commentary on others’ faith? James McGrath on the new Carmel (Indianapolis), Indiana temple:

    “As a professor of religion, I can appreciate the function of LDS teachings and rituals, even if I don’t subscribe to them myself. Indeed, their introductory video and commentary during the tour highlighted those very things. It is easy to dismiss “sealing” (marriage for eternity) as unbiblical. But in an era when fidelity to one’s spouse is held up less frequently as an ideal, this teaching – whether true or false – ought to be something that a religious conservative might appreciate.

    “And that’s the irony in the plan of Tri-Grace Ministries to hire protesters to be disruptive in front of the new temple. In doing so, they are showing that they are more concerned about ideas and doctrines than about practices. And I’m sure that they would agree, and think that is something to be proud of. And yet even if one thinks that Mormons are “pagans,” then it isn’t hard to glance at the New Testament and ask how Jesus interacted with such people.

    “He healed their children and servants, and never once, to my knowledge, greeted them with placards protesting their false beliefs.”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/07/visiting-the-new-mormon-temple.html

  17. Jeff, whether it’s deserved or not is not really my point. I think Robbins’ words can speak for themselves, and I certainly don’t endorse them.

  18. Christopher J. says:

    For what it’s worth, many early Mormons broached this subject in a decidedly different way, opting to portray other religious traditions and churches not as incorrect, but rather incomplete.

    This is Joseph Smith saying to Methodist circuit rider Peter Cartwright, “We Latter-day Saints are Methodists, only we have advanced further.” This is Smith borrowing from those same Methodists love feats, General and Quarterly Conferences, the Hosanna Shout, and so much more.

    This is the Lord comparing in D&C 22 Protestant baptisms to the Law of Moses–not an incorrect baptism, but simply one no longer valid now that a new covenant had been given and new authority had been restored, and speaking in several revelations of His church not being taken from the earth, but rather hidden in the wilderness.

    This is hundreds of early converts understanding their conversion to Mormonism not as a rejection of their former faiths, but rather as a fulfillment of them, with God leading them to and through the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Campbellite church in order to prepare them for the added truth taught by Mormon elders and contained in Mormon scripture.

    This is Brigham Young, alluding to the the 13th Article of Faith in an 1867 sermon, that “‘Mormonism,’ so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to ‘Mormonism.’ The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this church. As for their morality many of them are morally just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this church and kingdom. Death, hell, and the grave only are outside of ‘Mormonism.’ ‘Mormonism’ includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the gospel.”

    This is BY again, on a different occasion, insisting that Truth isn’t something only to be revealed through the prophet, but discovered, embraced, and gathered into Mormonism: “It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.”

    In the more recent past, this is Gordon B. Hinckley, inviting those interested in Mormonism to “bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it.” It is Jason and Ronan and Kristine and John and the other good folks behind BCC’s Mormon Lectionary Project embracing, introducing, and incorporating the Liturgical Calendar of Anglicanism into their lives and personal worship and the lives of BCC’s readers–something for which I am personally and profoundly grateful.

    After all, as Joseph Smith told us, if we if don’t “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, … we shall not come out true Mormons.”

  19. good stuff, Christopher — I certainly agree

  20. I think that Elder Robbins is simply continuing a long-held tradition in the culture of Mormon leadership, as well as that of much of the membership, of elevating themselves above other religious beliefs. Those who laugh are reveling in that old traditional Mormon spirit of “we have the true light and knowledge, and they don’t fully.” In fact it is quite likely that in the eyes of most true-believing Mormons, candle-lighting is silly at best and utterly apostate at worst, even if they shy away from verbalizing such an opinion. It is only recently that the Mormon leadership and Mormon culture has begun to embrace interfaith involvement and has begun to identify secular humanism, agnosticism, and atheism as the greatest threats. Other religions used to be treated as the “other,” now it is non-believers who are the “other.” And it is within this context of the supposed threat of non-belief that Mormons are beginning to identify other religions as part of the “self.” I must say that in the eyes of those who regularly undertake the spiritual practice of praying for the dead by lighting a candle (in many Catholic and Orthodox traditions), who greatly outnumber Mormons, Mormon practice and ritual appears to be quite silly. Many of them who are acquainted with these practices mock the idea of wearing special underwear for instance.

    I should say that I’m all about strongly criticizing all beliefs that inflict harm on others (i.e., ancient Aztec religion with its practice of human sacrifice, North African Islamic currents that practice female genital mutilation, etc.) and I am most certainly critical of con-artists who go around and deliberately dupe people that they possess magical powers and trick them into giving them money (i.e., Sri Sathya Sai Baba and numerous other gurus roaming the Indian subcontinent, witch doctors throughout Africa, etc.). But if people are practicing a spiritual ritual out of their own volition which is merely symbolic and harmless, there is no reason to criticize. Perhaps we could actually learn something valuable from many of the spiritual practices of others.

  21. Good stuff, Christopher. Do you have citations handy?

  22. I get the point that other churches do it to us, but if we are using the exceptional idea, then we should work hard to be exceptional and not mock others. Period. Religious or non-religious. Yes we should someday forgive Brother Robbins, but we also need to clarify what is most important. Does the 11th Article of Faith count or not? Do Joseph’s inclusive words count or not?

    In short I am with Em – I am embarrassed. We the exceptional should do and be much better.

  23. “Unfortunately, Elder Robbins has set himself up as the equivalent of a Baptist mega-church pastor giving his congregation information about Mormons in order to contrast that information with something he wants to present as Mormons being false and Baptists being true.

    “No Mormon in his or her right mind would lend any credence to a Baptist preacher’s self-serving and uninformed description of Mormon beliefs given for the purpose of contrasting them with the Baptist perspective of truth. Should we take Elder Robbins’ spin on the teachings he is contrasting as more credible or reliable than the Baptist preacher’s?”

    That’s exactly what Elder Robbins did here. As a former Catholic, my biggest regret when I joined the LDS Church is the things I said about my former faith. We can hold our exceptionalism, but there are better ways to do it.

  24. N. W. Clerk says:

    We should speak respectfully of other religions, even when we disagree with them. And we should speak respectfully of Elder Robbins, even when we disagree with him.

  25. How can we stay committed to our exclusive truth claims while genuinely respecting others? I don’t think we have to water down our own claims. I think what we do have to do, however, is to make a real effort to understand the beliefs and practices of others, and when we disagree, to disagree with the most charitable interpretation of those beliefs and practices that we can muster, and make sure we’re not simply dismissing caricatures of those beliefs. (One of many problematic examples in this talk was that of infant baptism, which for many churches no longer has anything to do with original sin, but is about welcoming a child into the community–much like our giving them a name and a blessing.) I also think that in addition to our exclusivity claims is the real possibility that we can learn from other faiths, and that we should be open to that possibility.

    At the same time, I don’t like an unthinking pluralism which asserts that everyone is right. I think one of the real challenges of this mortal world is dealing with disagreement, even radical disagreement, and I think a serious grappling with pluralism means having to grapple with that reality and not smoothing it over with an easy view that in the end, all beliefs are equivalent. Real interfaith dialogue means dealing with hard questions and serious disagreemeents. Our challenge is to do it in a way that is unquestionably, genuinely respectful of the other—one which takes them seriously in their own right, and doesn’t reduce them to a less developed version of ourselves.

  26. Lynnette, you are wise.

  27. Geoff - Aus says:

    Perhaps Elder Robbins and his audience are viewing the world from their very isolated, position, where they only see the world and other religions from that position, and where they are the majority and can look down on the minorities.
    For those members who live in minority situations it is much easier to appreciate the positives of how other people are at least as Christlike in their love for their fellow men, usually more so, because they are not constrained by their conservative culture, as we often are.
    Perhaps LDS exceptionalism is related to US exceptionalism, though members outside US have it too, but then they often see that culture as part of the church.
    They might like to know that when other people hear of us they do not make the same comparisons, mostly what they see is Polygamy, racism, sexism, and homophobia, the outward signs of Mormonism.

  28. Geoff – Aus hits the nail on the head. I cannot emphasize enough how clueless Mormons can be who, during their formative years (roughly birth to 25–most people’s thinking is pretty well cemented thereafter), have only ever lived outside of the Jello Belt as full-time missionaries–which is not exactly the best way to develop understanding of another culture. (Not always: Pres. Hinckley spent but a year at Columbia before spending his entire post-mission life in Utah, and yet had a better grasp of how to communicate with The World™ than any LDS leader in his lifetime, and probably the rest of mine. Often enough, though.)

    I don’t know if this is the case with Elder Robbins, but it’s depressingly common for General Authorities. I’ve mentioned this here before, but it’s one of the reasons Pres. Eyring and Pres. Uchtdorf “get it” in a way that a lot of General Authorities don’t.

  29. Thanks, Em. Important to say and do. I’m sure Elder Robbins meant what he said with the best intent, to teach an important facet of grace in Mormonism and make a point about the unconditional love of God. The negative simplistic comparison was unfortunate, but we can see it as weakness of a certain band of tradition, perhaps. There will always be this kind of poor thinking I suppose and it’s important to point it out.

  30. Jack Hughes says:

    I’m happy that we aren’t beating the “one true church” drum as much as we did when I was growing up. But anytime the Church makes a public show of interfaith tolerance or cooperation nowadays, it still always seems a little phony and forced, with a feeling of veiled superiority underlying it.

    ” It is only recently that the Mormon leadership and Mormon culture has begun to embrace interfaith involvement and has begun to identify secular humanism, agnosticism, and atheism as the greatest threats. Other religions used to be treated as the “other,” now it is non-believers who are the “other.” ”

    I hope this is not the case. Taken as a whole, “Nones” are estimated to be the fastest growing “religion” in the US, especially among Millenials. If we take an us-versus-them approach toward non-believers, it may help us build credibility with other conservative Christian sects, but we risk alienating the up-and-coming generations of Church members, as well as potential converts. We might need to shed some of our exceptionalist attitudes, but don’t need to give up our uniqueness to build bridges with Nones. Its easy for an LDS speaker to take cheap shots at Catholics, as Elder Robbins did, as there were no Catholics in his intended audience. However, there is a high probability that every Sunday we are sharing pews with closeted non-believers, and lots of other people who will someday leave the Church (and organized religion generally) for good. We can–and should–be a lot more careful about what we say and how we say it.

    We all seem to agree that its not appropriate to make fun of other religions; that should include non-religious belief systems as well.

  31. Thanks goodness God inspired the Brethren in the early 1990s to excise from the endowment ritual the portion that suggested the clergy of other religions were employees of Satan and that openly ridiculed and mocked the teachings of other Christian religions. With that change, at least we are no longer encouraged to think disparagingly of other religions each time we attend the temple. Just another reason those who did not particulate in temple rituals before that change may be grateful

  32. One of the earliest revelations to the apostles (when the apostles were Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, before the Twelve had even been found and called) was to “contend against no church save it be the church of the devil.” (Section 18, v. 20.) Of course, if you believe that the Roman Catholic Church or all of apostate Christianity is “the church of the devil,” that instruction becomes kind of meaningless, but I suspect that the Lord meant what he said, and that he would bless us if we were to take that instruction more seriously.

    In a similar vein, a revelation around the same time to Martin Harris instructed: “And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” (Section 19, v. 31.) My personal opinion is that much of the bad blood (not all, but much) that exists between us and other Christian churches comes from our failure to follow this instruction and to spend our time comparing and contrasting the various “tenets” that separate our faiths, rather than attending to the true message of the restoration, which is primarily about repentance.

    And repentance, and the divinity of Jesus, just happen to also be the major messages of the Book of Mormon, which we have been told that the church has been cursed for not taking seriously enough. And the early revelations also say that the Lord’s purpose in bringing to light the Book of Mormon is to establish peace and so that there will not be so much contention concerning the points of his doctrine. (Section 10.) It frustrates the Lord’s purpose if we participate in and prolong contention over tenets rather than focus on the message of repentance.

    Having said all that, I do agree with Steve that it is a bit unfair to single out Elder Robbins. He’s not really out of the mainstream. It’s just that maybe the mainstream could benefit from a little adjustment.

  33. ProvoCenterStreet says:

    ok this is going to make me sound really stupid – but I have no idea what the relevance is of people lighting candles. I’ve seen candles for sale with catholic themes, but as far as a practice relating to loved ones, no clue.

    PS what is the mormon obsession between comparing us to catholics? Does it come from the “search for happiness book” where the “intellectual” says “You mormons are ignoramuses! you have no idea the strength of your claims, either you are right or the catholics are!”

  34. Jack Hughes says:

    ProvoCenterStreet–
    Throughout the 20th century it was commonly believed in LDS circles that the “great and abominable church” (mentioned in 1 Ne. 13) was in fact the Roman Catholic Church, and I believe Bruce R. McConkie was primarily responsible for advancing that belief. The Church has since discredited (or at least downplayed) these claims.

  35. John Mansfield says:

    Once for a youth Sunday School lesson, I used Joseph Smith’s 1838 FAQ, the one that included “Will everybody be damned, but Mormons?” I asked the questions, the class gave answers, and then I read Joseph Smith’s answers. At the end, I asked if they had learned anything, and 14-year-old Michael answered, “I learned that Joseph Smith liked to make fun of other religions.”

  36. It is wrong to criticize Mormons for their behavior without understanding the fundamental problem behind their actions. Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. In his First Vision, Joseph Smith testified how “God” told him that the beliefs of others (aka, their “creeds”) were an “abomination” to “God”. It is on this vision’s foundational claims that Smith’s so-called “Restoration” stands. If these creeds were not abominations, then there’s no great apostasy. No great apostasy, no restoration. Sadly, it is through this tinted glass of total apostasy as enshrined in the First Vision that Mormons view the rest of Christianity. If Christian creeds were truly and objectively abominable, Elder Robbins’ mistake was not that he ridiculed them. Rather, that he did not ridiicule them hard enough.

  37. Thanks for the critical self-reflection. You could also have drawn attention to the simplistic mischaricature of traditional Christian beliefs and practices. A lot of intrafaith work needs to be done before interfaith work.

  38. Rico, I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that I have a somewhat different take on the statement from the first vision that the creeds were an abomination. I think if you look at the history of the persecution of heretics, including torture, murder, etc., that is enough for me to justify the statement that the creeds had become an abomination. I don’t agree with your statement that the restoration needs to stand on a belief that the creeds (and therefore all of christianity) are irredeemably bad, wrong about everything, and deserving of ridicule. I think we can acknowledge that the creeds had become an abomination through their having been wielded as weapons to divide the body of Christ over doctrinal details while acknowledging also that they contain a lot of truth and that it is unbecoming of those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus to ridicule others who worship him and believe in him differently than we do.

  39. This has been an interesting discussion. I agree with you, Ronan, that baptism for the dead is not the opposite of lighting candles for the dead. Bro. Robbins was definitely a little off in that comparison. In fact, I don’t think comparisons are the right thing to do. We have he priesthood authority from God so are able to perform the ordinances essential to salvation, but that does not make our faith greater than the faith of others. I loved the story from The Friend and hope we will all be respectful of the beliefs of others. The little boy’s offer to light a candle for Pres. Monson was very touching. May we all show that kind of faith and respect.

  40. JKC, If we say that creeds are abominable because they have been employed to bludgeon heretics, well… may we not say the same thing about the Bible itself? Jews, Catholics, Protestants, etc. have tortured and killed each other on the basis of irreconcileable interpretations of Bible verses. So, by your reasoning, the Bible must be abominable too.

    Some creeds may be detestable, but not all are abominable. Take one of the earliest Catholic creeds, the “Apostles Creed”. Examine each of its twelve brief lines of statements on God, the Church, and the last things. Can you identify one statement there that would be considered abominable by Mormon standards? I doubt you can.

    On the other hand, if I use Catholic standards, I can already point out Art. 2 of the LDS Articles of Faith as abominable for upholding the ancient heresy of Pelagius who denied original sin.

    That Joseph Smith revived Pelagius’ error is not a Catholic problem. It’s a Mormon problem. Because if Mormons are truly serious about healing the wounds of a divided Christianity, it would be a tragic error to persuade Catholics to tolerate Pelagianism. It would be like asking Mormons to tolerate polygamy or its controversial teachings on the Negro after they have disowned them.

    If “God” really told Joseph Smith that all other Christian creeds were “an abomination in his sight,” then Elder Robbins behavior is understandable. If lighting candles and praying for the dead are indeed abominations, then they are not only worthless objects of belief, they are also worth condemning. Abominations ought to be condemned.

    Unfortunately, in our liberalist age of tolerance, equality, and fraternité, even abominations deserve unquestioning respect.

  41. 32 mentions of ‘religion’, yet nobody seems to state that it’s not the religion that makes a man, before the Father. James 1:27 states, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” It shouldn’t take Scripture or a fellowship for a man to know God, or know between right and wrong, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.”

    I think what takes the most faith, after the wilderness, is to refrain from exalting oneself as if you really are better than anyone else. Everyone has to use the bathroom. And exiting the bathroom doesn’t generally leave the greatest of scents. More so, from the mud we came, and to the mud we return.

    The Holy Spirit gives men their sense of righteousness, but charity dictates that others are not simply evil because one is good. That is, simply put, before God, all men are equal. A man’s religion, before the Father, is a moot point if it is cursed by the very laws in place that follow in place of the new covenants that were supposed to free oneself from death. One’s covenants with death are self-deluded without earnest devotion; without due diligence. The Son intercedes on behalf of the Father, equally for the failings of men, but in greatest of honors are the humble, the meek, the lowly, the kind–those that truly worship our God. You can’t place a single moniker, such as the initials or nickname of one’s religion, over the bounds of His kingdom.

    “It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.”

  42. “I think if you look at the history of the persecution of heretics, including torture, murder, etc., that is enough for me to justify the statement that the creeds had become an abomination.”

    JKC, if you read Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price, you clearly see that the sects that he Joseph Smith was referring to and was instructed were abominations were not involved in torturing and murdering heretics. Among these sects were the local upstate New York Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists, and none of these, mind you, were ever involved in violent persecution of heretics. In fact, it was some of prominent figures in the early Baptist movement who were declared to be heretics by the Catholic church and Church of England, and suffered violent persecution.

    These sects were considered abominations because they supposedly didn’t get the doctrine right and the preachers were supposedly corrupt, and that’s it. Elder Robbins’ mocking of lighting candles is not only in line with common attitudes of Mormons throughout history towards the religious practices of other churches, it is in line with the scriptures from the Mormon standard works themselves and what God supposedly said about other religions.

  43. LYnnette said:
    “(One of many problematic examples in this talk was that of infant baptism, which for many churches no longer has anything to do with original sin, but is about welcoming a child into the community–much like our giving them a name and a blessing.)”

    And why do you disparage the belief in original sin, why is infant baptism okay as long as it’s done for reasons that you approve of? This is at it’s heart just more of the same seen in the video.

  44. Nan, I wasn’t making a judgment about the doctrine of original sin. I was simply pointing out that this comparison was more complicated than the video made it appear. Sometimes we talk as if Christianity were monolithic, which is a problem.

    That said, I don’t think it’s inherently problematic to say that we believe differently on any given issue or practice. As I said in my comment earlier, I think such disagreement needs to be done with charity and respect, and I’m uncomfortable with the video for those reasons. But I don’t have a problem with someone of any faith saying this is what I believe, and this is what I don’t believe. It’s a problem to assume that disagreement constitutes disparagement.

  45. Thanks for clarifying because your original statement said nothing about variety of Christian belief.
    I don’t see any reason for something like this video at all. The what we believe vs what they believe format has no purpose other than reinforcing our beliefs are great theirs are stupid. That he is addressing young people is especially egregious and sad. I don’t believe that “we don’t tear down the beliefs of others” is quite accurate unless you add “except amongst ourselves”, because of things like this, conference talks I’ve heard and the popularity of The Great Apostasy. .Sorry if this is harsh but I’ve had your missionaries on my doorstep presenting a distorted picture of my beliefs to my face. They were given this picture by someone.

  46. There is a great article on this topic in the most recent Religious Educator journal. Vol. 16 no. 1.
    The author is Mauro Properzi. The title is “Learning about Other Religions: False Obstacles and Rich Opportunities.” What follows is quoted from the article.
    “It is one thing to disagree with a particular belief while recognizing that it has some value and credibility (thus retaining respect for the believer); it is another thing to reject that same belief as utterly absurd or as the product of lazy motivations….Thus Latter-day Saints cannot really build strong collaborations and deep friendships with committed members of other faiths without stretching beyond generalizations, stereotypes, or caricatures of other religions, which only hamper mutual understanding.”

    The article also discusses at some length Stendhal’s three rules for religious understanding.

  47. John Turner (Presbyterian) says:

    Infants are innocent? When my daughter was born, she was so depraved during her first half year that we just had to get her baptized.

  48. Rico, I am very familiar with the apostles creed and have studied it at some length. I agree with you that there is very little, perhaps even nothing, that is incompatible with LDS teachings, which is something that I have argued in the past. In fact, I’ve made the same arguments with respect to the Nicean creed as well. There is obviously more controversy with that one, as evidenced by the long historical debate within traditional Christianity, without even taking into account the various statements made within Mormonism about it over the years, but I still think there is far more common ground than difference.

    I’m not sure what your point is about original sin, but I think LDS views on original sin are bit more nuanced than a surface level reading of the second article of faith might suggest. There are passages in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith’s bible translation that seem to teach something very close to original sin. The difference, I believe, is not that LDS scriptures and teachings deny that original sin exists. Rather, LDS scriptures speak of “original guilt,” and “the fall,” and teach that the atonement of Jesus saves all from the effects of the fall (including, but not limited to physical death), such that we are accountable only for our own sins, and not for Adam’s sin. So the real difference is that baptism is necessary in LDS teachings as a sign of repentance, but not to redeem from original sin. Now, I’m not saying that this would satisfy Catholic theologians as being orthodox, but I think there is more common ground than your comment above suggested.

    We may just have to agree to disagree on this point, but I disagree with you that heretics always need to be condemned. Jesus’ statement to his apostles was to let the wheat and the tares grow together until the end. Of course he also warned of false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing, so I don’t think we have to be passive in the face of heresy, but I think these two instructions need to be tempered one against the other. My belief is that much of the history of intra-Christian persecution resulted from a tragic failure to follow the teaching to let the wheat and tares grow together.

    Brad L., yes, another interpretation of the line from the first vision about “their creeds” is that it was referring only to the sects that were there in Palmyra and Manchester in the 1820s. I’m familiar with that line of argument, and it’s plausible. But I don’t think that rules out history as a possible explanation because the statement is not that the sects are abominable, but that their creeds are an abomination. The baptists, methodists, and presbyterians did hold to many of the same creeds that were historically used as weapons for persecution, and I think my reading is a fair one. Having said that, I also agree that the other interpretation is fair as well, and another way of reading it could be that “their creeds” referred primarily to things like the Westminster Confession of Faith rather than things like the apostles’ creed. (After all, the Apostles’ Creed is basically paraphrased right there in section 20.)

  49. Terrence says:

    It’s seems like it’s par for the course to discount other religions. Creating an “other” or a “devil” is how missionary oriented religion functions. How else are you going to get converts? Still, TBM leaders need to realize they live in a glass house and take it down a notch.

  50. I felt an immediate drop in my gut while listening to Elder Robbins. I have never felt comfortable in any lesson or talk that puts down another religion. Talk about the merits of our religion without disparaging another. I have always loved the article of faith #11 that talks about claiming the privilege to worship and allowing others the same privilege. To me this means respecting others. When an unfortunate talk like Elder Robbins is given, it instills in us, and especially the youth, that they need to point out where their friends’ religion is wrong, rather than, as the video says, ask and learn about another’s religion and beliefs. So many LDS live in a bubble where they believe that Mormonism is the end all. It makes me sad to see a leader play off of that belief. The whole comment that they light a candle for the dead is unfortunate, the laughter a disaster. My very Catholic friend attended a sacrament service with me and was disheartened to hear her religion disparaged. She said she’d thought we’d stopped doing that.

  51. 1. Inter-denominational Christian understanding and tolerance is at an all-time high. (Historically, it’s a sadly low bar.) Not that there isn’t work to do, but let’s recognize that.
    2. I just saw the Book of Mormon musical this weekend, so for the time being I’m inclined to cut Mormons some slack in making fun of other churches.

  52. Gilgamesh says:

    Back in the early 1970’s the Ensign ran a series of articles about other religions. These were well written and respectful articles that were meant to inform members about their neighbors as a way of bridge building. One of the last articles of this vein was in 1977. Gerald E. Jones wrote the article “Respect for Other People’s Beliefs.” It has since been quoted in the BYU World Religions manual. We have had a good history as a church in working with other faith’s and trying to understand our commonalities.Under its first entry on Hinduism, they state the purpose of the articles.

    “This is the first of a series of scholarly articles that examine some of the major world religions. Even though obvious differences do exist between contemporary religious faiths, a greater understanding of their histories, doctrines, personalities, and aspirations will certainly bring us nearer the goal of a brotherhood of mankind.”

    It would be nice to see the Ensign do a similar series today in light of the push for religious freedom.

    Hinduism (Burt Horsely)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/02/hinduism?lang=eng

    Islam and Mormonism (Hugh Nibley)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/03/islam-and-mormonism-a-comparison?lang=eng&query=islam

    Buddhism (Spencer Palmer)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/06/buddhism?lang=eng&query=buddhism#pop_001-03019_000_022

    Zoroastrianism (Ellis Rasmussen)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/11/zoroastrianism?lang=eng

    Lutheranism (Burt Horsely)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/10/lutheranism?lang=eng

    Reformed Protestantism (Richard Cowan)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/02/reformed-protestantism?lang=eng

    Judaism (Ellis Rasmussen)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/03/judaism?lang=eng

    Judaism (Entire issue featuring Victor and Daniel Ludlow)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/05?lang=eng

    Roman Catholicsm (Burt Horsely)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/04/roman-catholicism?lang=eng&query=Catholicism

    The Church of England (Joe Christiansen)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/09/the-church-of-england?lang=eng

    Jones’ article can be found at

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/10/respect-for-other-peoples-beliefs?lang=eng

  53. Gilgamesh says:

    Back in the early 1970’s the Ensign ran a series of articles about other religions. These were well written and respectful articles that were meant to inform members about their neighbors as a way of bridge building. One of the last articles of this vein was in 1977. Gerald E. Jones wrote the article “Respect for Other People’s Beliefs.” It has since been quoted in the BYU World Religions manual. We have had a good history as a church in working with other faith’s and trying to understand our commonalities.Under its first entry on Hinduism, they state the purpose of the articles.

    “This is the first of a series of scholarly articles that examine some of the major world religions. Even though obvious differences do exist between contemporary religious faiths, a greater understanding of their histories, doctrines, personalities, and aspirations will certainly bring us nearer the goal of a brotherhood of mankind.”

    It would be nice to see the Ensign do a similar series today in light of the push for religious freedom.

    Hinduism (Burt Horsely)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/02/hinduism?lang=eng

    Islam and Mormonism (Hugh Nibley)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/03/islam-and-mormonism-a-comparison?lang=eng&query=islam

    Buddhism (Spencer Palmer)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/06/buddhism?lang=eng&query=buddhism#pop_001-03019_000_022

    Zoroastrianism (Ellis Rasmussen)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/11/zoroastrianism?lang=eng

    Lutheranism (Burt Horsely)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/10/lutheranism?lang=eng

    Reformed Protestantism (Richard Cowan)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/02/reformed-protestantism?lang=eng

    Judaism (Ellis Rasmussen)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/03/judaism?lang=eng

    Judaism (Entire issue featuring Victor and Daniel Ludlow)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/05?lang=eng

    Roman Catholicsm (Burt Horsely)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/04/roman-catholicism?lang=eng&query=Catholicism

    The Church of England (Joe Christiansen)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/09/the-church-of-england?lang=eng

    Respect for Other People’s Beliefs (Gerald Jones)
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/10/respect-for-other-peoples-beliefs?lang=eng

  54. This post captures why I think this blog can be so hit and miss. There are some great articles, that point me to God, that cause me to reflect on my life and how I try to follow Christ; articles that help me sustain modern prophets, apostles etc.
    And then there are articles like this; I don’t understanding the value in feeling the need to critique the performance/words/approach of the general leadership. One of the commenters even wrote that if only more of the brethren could be more like Eyring and Uchtdorf.
    Elder Neil Andersen taught that, “There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find. The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been”.”
    I think most people would agree that Elder Robbins could have approached the topic in a more inclusive, understanding manner. For me, the relevant doctrines are clear. The LDS Church is the only true church on the earth; that contains all of the necessary doctrines, ordinances etc that we need in this life. However, the church does not have a monopoly on truth, or on goodness etc. The church is full of sinners. As Uchtdorf said, the church is more like a car service/repair centre, than a showroom.
    This post has reminded me that I need to spend more time studying the words of prophets & apostles (imperfect…but still chosen witnesses of Christ) than reading the opinions of the bloggernacle critics.

  55. “The whole comment that they light a candle for the dead is unfortunate, the laughter a disaster. My very Catholic friend attended a sacrament service with me and was disheartened to hear her religion disparaged. She said she’d thought we’d stopped doing that.”

    Being disheartened is understandable given the positive things the church said publicly when the Catholic Cardinal addressed BYU students. Its pretty awful to find out that Mormons mock and giggle about your beliefs in private.

  56. “And then there are articles like this; I don’t understanding the value in feeling the need to critique the performance/words/approach of the general leadership.”

    I will be pointing out to my Catholic neighbors how you don’t think a leader should be criticized for mocking their beliefs. I will also show your support for mocking other beliefs to my children and their friends. You are no better than those people in Indianapolis who deride your beliefs.

  57. JKC, My point about Elder Robbins’ behavior is that it cannot be fully explained unless one starts with the fundamental lessons Mormons learn from Smith’s First Vision. The First Vision is the starting point of Mormonism, and from there, Mormons are taught that “all churches are wrong” and their “creeds are an abomination”. This is the lens by which Robbins views other religions. To omit this is like trying to condemn Nazi genocide without condemning the German anti-Jewish sentiments of the 19th century.

    The claim that ALL Christian creeds are abominations is demonstrably and objectively false. And if this false idea is the starting point of Mormonism, I don’t see why anyone should cling to the rest of its teachings. A little error at the start tends to become great in the end.

    If ALL Christian creeds were indeed abominations, and if Smith had truly restored the only true church, I would expect that if he were to write a creed, it would not be abominable itself. It would be superior to others. As it turns out, the LDS Articles of Faith as written by Smith is already tainted with a major Christian heresy just right after one gets past the first article.

    If Mormons truly believe in the Catholic doctrine of original sin, then saying “we believe men will be punished for their owns and NOT for Adam’s transgression” is an atrocious way to say it. Nay, for precision and brevity, it is abominable. It would have been better to say: “we believe in original sin”.

    Of course, Mormons do not believe in original sin. Nuances be damned. Both the Book of Mormon and the LDS Temple Endowment ritual explicitly teaches that the Fall of Adam is nothing to fret about. “Men are that they may have joy.” And yet, if there is anything true about man’s present state, it is that his capacity to commit atrocity and depravity has no limits. Men ARE sinners, and to say that they’re supposed to be happy in their present sinful fallen state is an abomination.

    Mormons are that they may have joy. And if Elder Robbins had fun poking at Catholic beliefs, I hope my comments have shown you the real source of his happiness.

  58. “Both the Book of Mormon and the LDS Temple Endowment ritual explicitly teaches that the Fall of Adam is nothing to fret about.”

    Rico, this is not the case.

  59. Gilgamesh — that is really great! Thanks for collecting those in one place.

  60. Steve Evans, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25). If the sin of Adam brought about man’s present sinful and depraved state, what is there to be joyful about? The awful truth is we are wretched children of Eve constantly harrassed and buffeted by Satan and his minions in this fallen world. This world is not exactly a happy place, especially since the “prince of this world” currently dominates it. If this is not the case, then what is the case?

  61. If it were no big deal, I guess Christ’s resurrection should be more yawn-provoking.

  62. Steve Evans, if Christ’s resurrection were “yawn-provoking”, that would be what you would exactly find in Mormonism. If you want to learn more about Christ’s atonement, do you go to a Mormon temple? No. Mormon temples are not designed for that function.

    Your temple endowment ritual is all about Adam and why he is special. There, just as in the Book of Mormon, the Fall of Adam is given a new spin. His Fall is a necessary step towards man’s happiness, and his cooperating with Satan is not something to be deeply regretted. From start to end, the entire endowment is nothing more than an Adam-centered ritual, with Jehovah as the premortal Jesus performing a minor role. To appreciate the Jesus of Mormonism and his atonement, you don’t go to finely made Mormon temples. Boring chapels and meetinghouses will do just fine.