Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Mormonism Is a Cult, and Should Be Called One

I find myself today disagreeing with Richard Land, Ed Stetzer, and Peter Lumpkins.

There's a sentence nobody has ever uttered before, nor will again.

Mormonism is a cult, and if I read and understand these gentlemen correctly, they all agree with me on that point. Where we differ is in whether, or in what contexts, we should actually call Mormonism a cult. I think I understand their arguments and I appreciate what I understand to be their motivation (presuming, as I choose to do, that it rises above merely influencing the outcome of a political election).

That having been said, I'd like to interact with the fullest explanation of that point of view—the one Ed Stetzer gave in his article "Mormonism: Richard Land, NAMB, and a Southern Baptist Plan." Although I respect the arguments made by Stetzer, I'd like to show why I think he is in error.

First, I think Stetzer has too small an understanding of his audience. Stetzer wants Mormons to leave Mormonism and come to the gospel. So do I. And he correctly observes that most Mormons would rather that we did not refer to Mormonism as a cult. To drop the word "cult" is to do something that would make Mormons happier with our discourse. So far, we agree.

However, Stetzer's article makes no allowance for the fact that Mormons whom we would see converted into gospel Christianity are not the only ones within earshot of our conversation. Mormons are laboring hard to win people to Mormonism out from under the noses of Evangelical Christian churches (or even off their rolls, but that's a topic for another day). If "cult" is an accurate descriptor of Mormonism, and it if is a strong enough word to dissuade the non-Mormon lost people under our influence from being wooed away by Mormonism, then I'm in favor of using it.

In a village in Senegal, an animistic chief forcefully said to me, "You're not Jehovah's Witnesses, are you? Because if you are, you need to pack up right now and leave." Someone had told him to stay away from Jehovah's Witnesses because they are a cult. I was thankful for the person who had told him that. It made the job of sharing the gospel there a little bit easier. I'm glad that their aversion against Jehovah's Witnesses was not just technical, but was strong and emotive.

Second, I think Stetzer's analogies to other situations are bad analogies at key points. He compares Mormons' relationship with Christianity to Christians' relationship with Judaism. And yet there is an obvious difference between these two situations, and it is the very hinge upon which the choice of terminology turns: We Christians do not claim to be Jews, but Mormons do claim to be Christians. Stetzer's desire is that Mormons should not claim to be Christians at all, and so he suggests simply referring to them as another religion. But Mormons are not heeding Stetzer's instruction at this point. This is precisely why stronger language is in order here: The clarity of the gospel is at stake. Who is the "church of Jesus Christ?" Are they, or are we? Or are we all? When we are in dialogue with Muslims or Hindus or atheists, the definition of the ministry of Jesus Christ is not (quite so much) at stake as it is when we are in dialogue with or about Mormons.

Stetzer also appeals to an analogy with an adulterous neighbor, implying, basically, that using the word "cult" to refer to Mormons is like ordering in a supply of scarlet A's to distribute throughout your neighborhood in response to the prevalence of divorce in your cul-de-sac. A more accurate analogy would be to imagine that your neighbor was Noel Biderman, the founder of the company Ashley Madison, which proudly calls itself "the world's leading married dating service for discrete encounters." Mormons aren't just being something; they're selling something to others. And if your neighbor Biderman, the adultery salesman, were telling everyone that a little one-night stand on the side actually is monogamous marriage, then you'd have an analogous situation.

Wouldn't that situation be a bit different than the Hester Prynne story that comes to mind in Stetzer's article? In such a situation, where the very meaning of marriage and adultery were being confused in people's minds, wouldn't you have some obligation to speak up and say, "No, I'm sorry, but what you're promoting actually is adultery."

Third, if we're going to shift terminology, I think we have biblical warrant to go with something sterner rather than something kinder and gentler. Which sounds worse to you, "Mormonism is a cult," or "Let Mormons be accursed"? If Galatians 1 does not apply to Mormonism, then I'm hard pressed to figure out where it applies at all. Indeed, that's the challenge that I place before those who would like us to be more polite in our dealings with those who purport a different gospel of Jesus Christ: Would you list for me the groups for which you think we should speak of them in a Galatians 1 sort of way? Can you explain for me how those groups differ from Mormons? Or have we just entirely lost our nerve for such things altogether?

Consider also the language from Jesus Himself to the seven churches in Asia. Jesus commended the Ephesians for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, told the church at Pergamum that he would wage war against the Nicolaitans with the sword of His mouth, called a false teacher in Thyatira "Jezebel," and referred to Jewish groups in Smyrna and Philadelphia as "a synagogue of Satan." When people start to mess around with the truth of the gospel, Jesus doesn't mince words. Why, again, should we?

In conclusion, Stetzer is right that we cannot avoid the topic of Mormonism in this election season. It's a challenge. It is also an opportunity. An opportunity to speak truth about Mormonism. Ed Stetzer clearly said that we should not cease to call Mormonism a cult if pressed to do so, and I appreciated that principled stand on his part. My aim in this article has been to demonstrate why I think it is a biblical and strategic practice to include, as a part of our discourse about Mormonism, an intentionality about identifying it as a cult.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Might Not Vote for Mitt Romney

I'm considering—seriously considering—writing in "Mike Huckabee" when I vote for President of the United States on Election Day.

  1. Not because Mitt Romney is a Mormon. He is a Mormon, of course. The personal implications of that are real and frightening. There is only one way of salvation for human beings. He has rejected it and embraced a lie instead of the truth. He is lost.

    Nevertheless, I do not believe that we should have a religious test for public office in the United States of America. I would vote for a Mormon. I was planning, until a few minutes ago, to vote to have a magic underwear closet installed in the Lincoln Bedroom, and I was entirely comfortable with that.

  2. Not because I strongly suspect that Mitt Romney is still the liberal that he was when he was Governor of Massachusetts. I really do. I fully expect that, once he is safely ensconced at 1600 Pennsylvania (if, indeed, that were to transpire), he will do absolutely nothing to carry forward a conservative vision for America. I really don't know why liberals are so worried about him.

    And yet, never in our history have we had a president as liberal as Barack Obama. I'm not sure that we've ever in our history had a serious CANDIDATE for the presidency who was as liberal as Barack Obama. I'll take an insincere liberal pretending to be a conservative over a liberal true-believer any day of the week. Facing the choices we face, I was prepared to vote for Mitt Romney in spite of my well-founded suspicions.

  3. Not because Mitt Romney is such a weak candidate. Imagine how differently the last debate would've gone if we could've had a candidate actually capable of taking the fight to Barack Obama over Obamacare? What if we had a candidate with the convictional nerve to challenge the President over his atrocious record on religious liberty when he starts to talk about Obama's religious-funding-for-chemical-abortion mandate?

    And yet, I've voted for these self-defeating kamikaze GOP candidates before: Bob Dole, John McCain. I was prepped to do so again.

    Really, what has lost my vote for Mitt Romney is nothing that Mitt Romney has done or has been, nothing that Barack Obama has done or has been—the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association probably cost Mitt Romney my November ballot when it stopped calling Mormonism a cult explicitly because of this election.

  4. Because walking away from the GOP in this election may be the only way to save the gospel from the pragmatic branch of Evangelicalism that never met a doctrine it wouldn't throw under the bus for the right price, I may not vote for Mitt Romney in November. I can imagine circumstances in which I would vote for Mitt Romney, but under no circumstances will I play make-believe about his heresy. That price is too high. That is a bridge too far.

    For the sake of my congregation, when Billy Graham is muddying the waters of the gospel, I have an obligation to provide clarity. For the sake of Mormons in my community who need to know of their need for the gospel of Jesus Christ and who are being reassured in their damnable heresy by none less than Billy Graham, I have an obligation to provide clarity.

If the election came down to a single vote, that vote were mine, and the circumstances of the election put me in a situation of having to choose between a vote that would doom the nation to four more years of the curse upon our land that is the Obama Administration or a vote that would leave doubt in anyone's mind whether the true followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ consider Mormonism to be a cult—if that were the choice that I faced and it were all within my hands, Rick Warren would be praying at another Obama inauguration in January.

Why? Do I want Obama to win? No. The defeat of Barack Obama is a priority of mine. But it is only one among many priorities. And in that list of priorities, that particular one isn't at the top…isn't in the top ten.

I've got my priorities straight. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association doesn't. I'm worried about some of the other institutions of Evangelicalism around me.

I'm worried about some of you.

Prove me wrong. Prove the BGEA wrong. Prove Mitt Romney wrong. Come out HARD against this terrible mistake, and do it BEFORE the election.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why Even Selfish Churches Should Insure Their Pastors

It's that glorious time of the year again: Budget Season! I don't know whose insurance premiums the President had been watching when he said in the debate that rates were going up at a slower rate than ever before, but he needs to come and look at ours for a little reality check. Each year at FBC Farmersville we grimace when we look at the rates for the new year. For most churches, employee health insurance is a major portion of the budget (even for churches for whom that expense is obscured under a line item entitled "Salary").

Churches provide insurance because they are generous and want to take good care of those whom God has given them as servants. And yet, as I labor on our church's budget each year, it is my duty to look out for the best interests of the church. Church leader, occasionally you may encounter those who, seeing high insurance premiums, would advocate dropping the benefit of health insurance for the church staff. If a church does that, it obviously harms the financial interests of the church staff. I'd like to make a case for how that church may also be harming its own financial interests.

In other words, I'd like to explain why even selfish churches ought to insure their pastors.

Even among the wealthy in our country, only a few could afford to self-insure against hospitalization and medical expense. The most expensive hotel room in town probably can't touch the cost of the cheapest hospital room: A one-night stay in the hospital costs an average of nearly $16,000. Have a car accident, a stroke, or a cancer diagnosis, and you're going to need a lot of coin stashed away somewhere if you're planning to do the whole thing out-of-pocket. I think we can safely presume that very few Southern Baptist pastors could face such a scenario out-of-pocket.

So, what if something like that should happen to one of your pastor's children? What would your church do? When his financial duress began to become obvious and the stress began to mount, what would you do? When he declared bankruptcy, how would your church respond? Would you kick him and his family to the curb? How would that look? What would happen when he went to the local bank and set up a fund, begging members of the community to contribute to help pay for his little girl's chemotherapy? How would that look? What effect would any of these scenarios have upon your church's reputation? When you eventually faced hard choices, would the challenge of it all split your church? Would you lose members over it?

What would you pay, on that day, to get your church's good reputation back? Comparing the various insurable risks that a church faces, you might be a lot better off financially (if you are in a smaller church with an older building and with a beloved pastor) to have a church building burn down without property insurance than to have a pastor's child get leukemia without health insurance.

Of course, having a child develop cancer is only one of the scenarios we could consider. What if your pastor should die and leave behind a family of four in your parsonage with no income? What if your pastor suffers a stroke and is disabled? Won't this family be an object of sympathy and pity in your community? Won't your church feel tremendous pressure to meet their burdensome financial needs?

Protection against these sorts of scenarios is the value provided to churches by the insurance that they provide for their employees. You're not just insuring your staff; you're insuring your church's reputation in your community. The insurance could be worth whatever your church's reputation is worth.

This very reason is why your church ought to provide health insurance as a benefit rather than simply increasing the salary and telling your employees to go get their own insurance. Will all of your staff members actually go out and buy the insurance, or will some of them pocket the cash? How can you be sure who is doing what? If the church buys the insurance, then at least the church can know for certain that the insurance is in effect. That's worth something.

It should be a goal for your church to make certain that you have no uninsured full-time employees.

Here's what we do at FBC Farmersville: We provide a health insurance benefit for our full-time staff. We provide a long-term disability benefit for our full-time staff. We do not provide a short-term disability benefit, because we are able to self-insure against that risk. We do not provide life insurance for our staff, although that exposes us to some risk, because it is so difficult to arrive at any uniform way to evaluate the life-insurance need of various employees.

Ours is probably not the perfect approach to employee insurance, but we've done what we've done both out of a noble desire to take good care of our staff and out of far-sighted self-interest on the church's behalf. May the Lord prevent us from ever facing any of the scenarios that I've outlined in this essay, but if any of them should befall us, I'm thankful that our church will not face an imminent financial crisis or crisis of reputation while we are facing such unfortunate events.