LETTER TO DR. GARY LEAZER REGARDING SEMINAR ON MORMONISM
Background For The Correspondence To Dr. Gary Leazer
(Southern Baptist Convention)
During the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s, there was a concerted effort by protestant churches, most especially the Baptist in the South, to conduct anti-Mormon seminars. Unfortunately, the seminars, as one might expect, lacked accuracy, fairness, and balance.
Those remotely familiar with the history of the Church did not find such Mormon-bashing to be surprising. After all, if the Church is what it claims to be—the true Church of Jesus Christ, restored in its fullness by Jesus Christ at a pivotal time in world history, then those who for one reason or another feel threatened by that claim will naturally oppose the Church and its members. At least in my day, the opposition has been verbal instead of physical as was the unfortunate case in the 19th century.
The major tactics used in those two modern decades by those opposing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were threefold:
(1) In the 1980’s, emphasis was given to the claim that members of the Church were members of a “cult.” [Little attention was given to providing a mutually acceptable definition for the word “cult.”] This tactic relied heavily upon the shock value of the word “cult,” which immediately conjures up a dark-side, devil-worshipping clan engaged in secret nighttime rituals, or something akin to it.
Previously, the word “cult” had been used frequently by the media in describing the Reverend Jim Jones-led religious group of 900-plus who died in the remote jungles of South America in November of 1978 after drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. Personally speaking, I was never able to fathom in my mind the president of the Church leading the 350-plus members and staff of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir into the jungles of South America and convincing them to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, or any similar event like unto it.
(2) A now fully debunked 56-minute film called The God Makers was shown to audiences, first in California in 1982 and then moving easterly across the nation. Although touted as a hard hitting investigative documentary, in only 56 minutes the film presented 141 statements that were not true, 131 unwarranted conclusions based on known facts, 125 misinterpretations, 119 exaggerated statements, 47 significant quotes that were undocumented, and 39 occasions where historical materials were quoted out of context to the extent that it altered the meaning. The film strained at warping and distorting the teachings of the Church in such a way as to make them so strange and bizarre that no rational person could possibly accept them.
(3) During the 1990’s, opposition centered on an attempt to prove that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not genuine Christians. They are merely counterfeit Christians. I can only comment that every brand of Christianity, of which there are many, is different in some ways from every other brand of Christianity. The unique value of each brand of Christianity is centered in its plain and precious differences.
Christian “orthodoxy” is totally subjective in its various definitions espoused by competing Christian sects. If “orthodoxy” is actually conformity to the Bible’s record of the Savior’s doctrinal teachings and church organization as he set it up, then I respectfully submit that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more “orthodoxy” than any other modern Christian organization.
I have never been inclined to say that another man is a non-Christian simply because his brand of Christianity is different from my brand of Christianity. In fact, it would seem to be non-Christian of myself to judge someone else as being non-Christian. At the end of the day, our Christianity or lack thereof is demonstrated by the manner in which we live our lives. Do we do our best to mirror the Master? Do we behave like Him? Do we follow His teachings? Do we keep His commandments?
The Church survived the attacks of the 1980’s and 1990’s and emerged stronger. The opposition had put the Church in the news, a less successful approach than merely leaving the Church in obscurity by ignoring it. Between the years 1980 and 1999, the worldwide Church grew from approximately 4.4 million members to approximately 10.7 million members.
The Church did not contend or respond in kind to the anti-Mormon efforts. We did not revile the revilers, but continued to proclaim the glad tidings—repentance and faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the remission of sins by baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
I believe that history supports the proposition that no organization, especially one claiming to be a Christian organization, can prosper over an extended period of time if its resources, energy, and activities are aimed at destroying a Christian institution. I think it a great shame that hard-earned money donated by faithful members to their southern Baptist churches was used to pay professional lecturers to slanderously attack their Christian neighbors. Such organizational misconduct, when wisely considered by its rank and file membership, increased the erosion of the Baptist membership far greater than did Latter-day Saint proselytizing.
I wrote the following letter after I read in a Montgomery newspaper about a forthcoming seminar on Mormonism to be held at the Alabama Baptist Convention Building in Montgomery. I attended all of the sessions which extended over a two-day period.
With regard to my two requests contained near the conclusion of my letter, neither were honored. Both were outright rejected. Materials were not furnished in advance, and I was instructed that I could attend so long as I sat quietly and made no comments. Near the end of the seminar, after having listened to much inaccurate information for many hours, the lecturer actually asked me a question about the age requirement for youth temple attendance. I refused to answer in order to honor my agreement to remain silent, but added that if we were going to inject accuracy into the seminar, we would need to start over.
Following my attending the seminar, I sent the following news release to the local media outlets:
Date: November 1988
To: Local Media Outlets
From: John E. Enslen, President of The Montgomery Alabama Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Re: Statement in response to anti-Mormon lectures sponsored by the Baptist Church
We are delighted that there is such a strong public interest in the unique doctrines and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course, we would prefer that people ask us directly so that they might be taught with accuracy from an authoritative source. People generally know that you should not ask a Xerox man about the quality of an IBM product, and vice-versa.
We, along with many of our own Baptist friends who know us personally, are naturally offended by our being labeled as non-Christian devil worshippers and cultists. But we do not expect that these anti-Mormon lectures will do us any harm. My goodness, how is the Baptist leadership going to convince the public that the members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are actually a devil-worshipping cult? The Baptists are only hurting themselves. Foolish and fictitious notions always disprove themselves in time.
Our true desire is that we can all mutually enjoy the great religious freedoms of this nation as Christian neighbors. We are a Christ-centered church. Our church bears his sacred name. We worship him as our personal Savior and Redeemer. We know that He is the only begotten Son of God, the only name under heaven by which man can be saved. We invite all to come unto Him.