Posted by Mark Paredes
When Mormon media figure Glenn Beck was under attack last year by major Jewish groups for inappropriate comments he made about financier George Soros, one of the few Jewish leaders to defend him was Mort Klein, the head of the far-right Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Last week Beck returned the favor by accepting the ZOA’s Defender of Israel Award at the group’s annual fundraising dinner. Given that the honoree staunchly defended Israel, invoked the Holocaust, and made a mysterious prediction, his performance was entirely predictable.
The large ZOA crowd served as a giant echo chamber for Beck’s hour-long stemwinder, which by all accounts enthralled the audience. Condemning the world for “aiding and abetting the ranting of madmen who are out to destroy Israel and the Jewish people,” Beck went on to compare Israel’s predicament to the appeasement of the Nazis in 1939. Although I don’t understand why Beck can’t seem to speak about Jews without invoking the Holocaust, I have to agree with him here. I only see a difference in capability, not intent, between Hitler’s anti-Semites, the militants of Hamas and Hizbollah, and President Ahmadinejad of Iran.
However, Beck being Beck, he couldn’t stop at merely defending Israel, sometimes in apocalyptic terms. He also found a way to shift the focus to his Messiah complex, prophesying that “There is an 18-month window” in which to change the world, “and I believe I know how to do it.” He promised to clear up the mystery on December 8 with a public announcement to let the rest of us know where he is headed. I don’t know about you, but the suspense is killing me.
I only write about Glenn Beck when he makes news in the Jewish community, and every time I do his supporters accuse me of shilling for George Soros and/or my paymasters in the Democratic Party (note to George and Dems: if you’re reading this, I need a big raise). He’s one of the most prominent Mormons in the country, so I’d really like to be able to embrace him and his ideas. Unfortunately, Beck sometimes makes that hard to do. In this case, claiming unique prophetic insight and offering yourself up as a savior to Israel and the world in the next 18 months are non-starters for me. At the ZOA dinner, Beck lamented the fact that “[today] mad men speak, and the world hears and it is aiding and abetting.” One can’t help but wonder whether his hearers felt pangs of guilt.
12.20.13 at 10:59 pm | Actually, it was almost inevitable in today's. . .
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important
11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . .
11.4.13 at 10:43 pm | Greater expectations need to be placed on Jews,. . .
10.18.13 at 11:26 pm | My friend Brian offers an eloquent explanation of. . .
10.13.13 at 11:28 pm | The title says it all
12.20.13 at 10:59 pm | Actually, it was almost inevitable in today's. . . (1550)
9.9.12 at 9:30 pm | When it comes to the Book of Mormon, I'll stick. . . (54)
11.18.10 at 12:47 am | A monument to the prophet in Israel is an idea. . . (48)
November 25, 2011 | 1:40 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
One of the people for whom I am thankful today is Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week. In his most recent article, he expresses support for Mormons as fellow members of a minority religion. As such, he believes that they should be judged, like Jews, on their character and values, not their theology. He also identified several Mormon attributes that Jews should strive to adopt, including pride, confidence, direct action, and reaching out to others.
I thank him for the compliments, though I think that Jews to a large extent have already internalized these positive values. In the spirit of returning the favor, I’d like to highlight a few areas in which Mormons can learn from Jews.
One of the reasons that Jews are currently the most highly-regarded religion in the country is because they have perfected the art of building coalitions and reaching out to others. Mormons are getting better at this, especially when it comes to humanitarian relief and religious freedom issues. Still, I long for the day when the church will be able to reach out on a non-political basis to blacks, Hispanics, gays, and other religious groups with half the success of Jewish groups like the AJC, ADL, and major Jewish federations.
I am also envious of the extent to which large synagogues attempt to meet the intellectual as well as the spiritual needs of their congregants. Nationally-known authors, speakers and politicians are standard fare at major LA synagogues, as are lectures, classes, symposia and the like. All of this comes on top of worship services and Jewish learning. The LDS Church prefers to focus on spiritual development, including temple worship and genealogical research. As much as I enjoy participating in LDS rituals and worship, I will confess to a certain holy envy while thumbing through the adult education offerings at synagogues and JCCs. Ditto for Jewish book fairs, which bring together Jewish authors and readers around the country.
Mr. Rosenblatt praised the LDS Church’s “low-key approach to negativity,” suggesting that Jewish organizations might want to follow its lead by focusing more on their missions and less on reacting to every public slight or criticism of their faith. There’s no question that the organized Jewish community reacts more loudly and aggressively to attacks on Judaism than Mormons do to attacks on Mormonism. While the restrained approach works well for the church as an institution, I for one would like to see individual Mormons react with more fire in the belly when their religion is mocked.
Turning the proverbial other cheek to anti-Mormons can sometimes cause others to lend credence to their arguments. Even the author of Ecclesiastes observed that there is a “time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (3:7). By responding aggressively to attacks on their people and faith, Jews have largely succeeded in making anti-Semitism socially unacceptable in this country. By way of contrast, public criticism of Mormon beliefs and practices is often met with shoulder shrugs by Mormons. The result? In the last few weeks LDS Christianity has been ridiculed by a Yale literature professor, a New York Times columnist, and a Baptist pastor, inter alia.
On a day when Americans give thanks for their many blessings, Mormons can be grateful to Jews for showing how a small, cohesive minority can overcome discrimination and prejudice and succeed in this great country. My thanks again to Mr. Rosenblatt for publishing his insightful column.
November 19, 2011 | 12:40 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
While Europeans are justifiably concerned about Italy’s ability to put its financial house in order, philo-Semites like me are also worried about the country’s rising level of anti-Semitism. According to the Italian Chamber of Deputies’ Committee for the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, nearly half of Italians expressed opinions “in some way hostile to Jews,” with 12 per cent in the “fully fledged anti-Semite” category. Of some comfort was the news that only 22 per cent of young Italians (18-29) were considered to be hostile to Jews.
The committee’s report brings together two groups that I care deeply about: Jews and Italians. I served my Mormon mission in Italy (Sicily, Apulia, Basilicata), majored in Italian at college, and have lived in the country three times. During my missionary service, I did notice anti-black sentiment directed at African immigrants, but did not discuss Jews or Judaism with Italians. [This was, after all, in my pre-Jewish obsession days].
Imagine my joy, then, to receive an email from an old contact, Dr. Jonathan Curci, during the same week that the Chamber of Deputies issued its disturbing report. Jonathan is a Mormon academic with a deep love for Jews and Judaism who is trying to bring both communities together in Italy. This week he and Dr. Raffaele Petroni, an LDS Middle East analyst, joined with Rabbi Shalom Bahbout, Chief Rabbi of Naples, at an event held at a synagogue in Florence. According to Jonathan, Rabbi Bahbout has spoken to a Mormon congregation in Taranto and is a good friend of the local LDS community.
The event’s purpose was to commemorate both the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and the dedication of the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews by LDS Apostle Orson Hyde 170 years ago. The three men discussed current events and themes from Dr. Curci and Dr. Petroni’s book on Israel, the Middle East, and the Arab-Israeli conflict (“L’esistenza dello stato d’Israele, il Medio Oriente e la comunità internazionale. Considerazioni sul conflitto”).
There are 25,000 Mormons in Italy, and this is a big step forward in LDS-Jewish relations for them. I applaud Rabbi Bahbout for his support and Drs. Curci and Petroni for their vision. Let us hope that many similar events will take place throughout the peninsula. With construction of an LDS temple underway in Rome, Italian Mormons will soon have even more opportunities to share their understanding of covenant Israel with their Jewish friends. The growth of the LDS Church in Italy should be of comfort to anyone who worries about anti-Semitism in the country. As the Italian saying goes, “Chi bene incomincia è a metà dell’opera” (Well begun is half done). This looks like a great beginning to me.
November 16, 2011 | 10:29 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
“[Joseph Smith] was an authentic religious genius, unique in our national history. . . . Smith’s insight could have come only from a remarkably apt reading of the Bible, and there I would locate the secret of his religious genius. . . . So strong was this act of reading that it broke through all the orthodoxies—Protestant, Catholic, Judaic—and found its way back to elements that Smith rightly intuited had been censored out of the stories of the archaic Jewish religion.” – Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation
“All religion depends on revelation. All revelation is supernatural. If you wish to be a rock hard empiricist, then you should not entertain any religious doctrine whatsoever.” – Harold Bloom, “The Mormons” documentary
These past few weeks have been open season on the LDS Church. First a bigoted Baptist pastor, then a lapsed Catholic columnist, and now a gnostic Jewish professor have felt the need to publicly unburden themselves of anti-Mormon prejudices. In last week’s New York Times Sunday Review, Yale professor Harold Bloom – of all people—wrote an illiterate denunciation of the modern LDS Church in an effort to call into question Mitt Romney’s fitness for the presidency. The Peter Principle – in a hierarchy, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence – is evident to anyone who has ever worked for a large organization. When it comes to analyzing Mormonism, writing to the level of one’s incompetence shall henceforth be called the Bloom Principle.
Like many Mormons, I have been quoting for years Bloom’s positive statements about Joseph Smith and LDS scriptures. Since Bloom is Jewish, I even included them in a speech on LDS-Jewish relations that I have delivered in more than a dozen countries. Tonight I deleted them. Anyone who professes to understand our faith while asserting that “[n]o Mormon need fall into the fundamentalist denial of evolution, because the Mormon God is not a creator” is delusional.
Since this is primarily a religion blog, I’d like to focus on Bloom’s statement that the 21st-century LDS Church “has little resemblance to its 19th-century precursor.” Let’s leave aside the fact the church is still led by prophets, apostles, stake presidents and bishops, or that we’re still building temples and sending out missionaries. Instead, let’s consider how closely modern rabbinic Judaism resembles the Judaism of the Hebrew Bible.
To an outsider’s eye, they’re two different religions. Modern Jews worship without the benefit of prophets, priesthood, temples, revelation, sacrifices, and temples. To be sure, Bloom does mention Rabbi Akiva, who created “what we now call Judaism” in the second century CE, but he doesn’t go far enough. The rabbis responded to the spiritual needs of their people through the centuries by interpreting the Torah (both oral and written) in ways that they felt were inspired by God. Does this make their religion less authentically Jewish?
Just as it would not be appropriate for a thoughtful Mormon to criticize rabbinic Judaism for not being an exact replica of Mosaic Judaism, it is also improper for a Jew who sees Mormonism through a gnostic lens to ridicule the LDS Church for having adopted certain procedures and practices to meet the needs of 14 million members in nearly 180 countries. LDS leaders in the 19th century had different problems to deal with, and we believe that they received divine revelation to do so. In LDS Christianity, we don’t believe in a static faith. If Joseph Smith were the only prophet we needed in modern times, then we wouldn’t have a prophet on earth today. The most important prophet for us is always the current one, since he is the presiding high priest in covenant Israel as well as God’s mouthpiece to His people (think Ezra). Today’s LDS Church is no less authentic than that of Joseph Smith’s time, and it takes considerable chutzpah for a non-Mormon gnostic to assert otherwise.
Indeed, Bloom seems to think that his readers are completely unfamiliar with Jewish beliefs, especially ancient ones. What else to make of his bizarre claim that “[t]he American Religion centers upon the denial of death, literalizing an ancient Christian metaphor.” For the record, Latter-day Saints and other Christians don’t deny death, but affirm a belief in an afterlife. Just like Judaism once did. If my Orthodox Jewish friends are to be believed, it still does.
What is especially pitiful about the essay is the partisan nature of its attacks. Coming from a professor who has loudly denied politics a role in literary criticism, this is almost unforgivable. Here’s my favorite rant from the essay: “A dark truth of American politics in what is still the era of Reagan and the Bushes is that so many do not vote their own economic interests. Rather than living in reality they yield to what oddly are termed ‘cultural’ considerations: moral and spiritual, or so their leaders urge them to believe. Under the banners of flag, cross, fetus, exclusive marriage between men and women, they march onward to their own deepening impoverishment. Much of the Tea Party fervor merely repeats this gladsome frolic.” According to Bloom, Tea Party members, supporters of Bush and Reagan, abortion opponents, and other conservative voters live in a fantasy world and are too stupid to understand what their own interests are. Thank goodness they have an 81-year-old man who has never worked outside a college campus to identify their true economic interests.
In spite of Harold Bloom’s illiterate screed, I will continue to read anything that he writes – on Shakespeare or the Romantic poets. He has certainly diminished himself as a serious writer on religion with this New York Times piece. If he doesn’t like Romney’s policies or positions, he’s free to enunciate his reasons for opposing him without slamming the candidate’s faith. Raising the specter of a “strengthening of theocracy” in this “plutocracy” and “oligarchy” is both irresponsible and unworthy of a writer and thinker of his caliber. After all, many Mormons have served as governors, senators, and cabinet members. Surely the good professor can cite an example of a Mormon in high office who has attempted to use it as a platform to promote his religion. If he can’t, then perhaps he should stick to his area of competence and leave Mormonism and politics to writers who can intelligently analyze and separate the two. Shakespeare’s Claudius said it much better: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
November 10, 2011 | 10:43 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
“You and I know that I can’t speak on behalf of the church tonight, but I can speak on behalf of myself. I want to tell you, if you leave here not remembering anything I have to say, remember this: I’m sorry. Deeply, deeply sorry.” – LDS Bishop Kevin Kloosterman
What a crazy world we live in. In the past week a prominent Hollywood director was fired from the Oscars project for saying “rehearsing is for fags,” while a sitting Mormon bishop visited a Baptist church in Salt Lake City to tell an LGBTQ crowd that he was sorry for the way they’ve been treated by their fellow Mormons. Although both statements were unexpected, Brett Ratner’s dismissal and Bishop Kloosterman’s speech were welcomed by many members of the gay community. I will defer to my fellow JJ blogger Danielle Berrin for further insight into Ratner’s fall from grace, while I focus on the good bishop’s words.
Bishop Kloosterman flew himself to Utah in order to speak at the first-ever “Circling the Wagons” conference for gay Mormons. More than 300 people turned out to hear his speech, the text of which appears here. It was an unprecedented mea culpa on behalf of straight Mormons, and it was heartfelt. The bishop, who is straight and heads a congregation in Illinois, claimed that the Holy Spirit prompted him to learn more about gay issues as they relate to his church. His conclusion? Gays Mormons’ treatment by some of their straight coreligionists is an “atrocity,” and the offenders need to repent and make restitution.
On the face of it, the bishop’s extemporaneous speech was both remarkable and unobjectionable. Orthodox Mormons like me noted – and he subsequently clarified—that he was not asking the LDS Church to change its doctrines concerning the sanctity of male-female marriage or the sinful nature of extramarital sexual relations. What I heard him saying was that Mormons who are prejudiced against gays as people should remember that we are all God’s children. Who can argue with that? We don’t have to agree with people’s lifestyles or romantic choices in order to love them.
I’m not sure that I would label gays’ treatment by some Mormons an “atrocity,” but there certainly are homophobic Mormons. In order to educate them, in recent years the church has published the pamphlet “God Loveth His Children” on the subject of same-sex attraction and senior leaders have spoken in official church publications on the need for Mormons to love their gay relatives, friends and neighbors. So long as “compassion” doesn’t mean changing our standards of sexual morality, there is no reason for Orthodox Mormons not to follow their leaders’ admonition to be more compassionate and understanding.
I agree with Bishop Kloosterman that individual Mormons who have rejected and abandoned gays because of their sexual orientation need to repent and make whatever restitution or reconciliation is possible under the circumstances. However, it’s not clear what if anything the church as an institution can do to reach out to gay Mormons as a group. Single adults are another group with heightened sensitivities in the LDS Church, and in many areas there are whole congregations of singles, church activities for singles, special temple worship sessions for singles, etc. It is inconceivable that the church would organize separate congregations or activities for gay Mormons. The gays whom I know in the church serve in lay positions and lead their lives just like the rest of us. I’m not sure that they would appreciate being singled out for special attention or outreach by the church or by their fellow congregants.
Bishop Kloosterman deserves kudos for his courage and his call for empathy. I hope that his speech leads to reconciliation and the healing of damaged relationships. Every moral person believes that hatred of gays is unacceptable, and he has made an admirable effort to start conversations in the LDS community that need to be started. Let us all look forward to the day when such speeches to Mormon audiences will be unnecessary.
November 5, 2011 | 11:50 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
“Judaism affirms the permissibility of war as a response to life-threatening aggression, current or anticipated.” – 2003 Resolution on Conflict with Iraq, The Rabbinical Assembly
“Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.”—Alma 43:46 (Book of Mormon)
The drumbeat of war in the Middle East grows louder with each passing day as senior Israeli leaders hint that they may attack Iran in the near future. Yesterday President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Prize recipient widely viewed as pragmatic and even dovish on peace issues, told a television station that “there is not much time left” to try non-military options. There is ample justification in Jewish law for a preemptive attack on people who have announced their intention to kill you. However, many of my readers may not know as much about LDS teachings on the subject. While modern LDS scriptures certainly support defending one’s family and nation from aggression, it is up to individual members to decide whether they can be used to justify a preemptive attack on a genocidal wannabe nuclear state.
Of course, there is also ample support in our theology for forgiving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek, as Jesus taught in the New Testament. In addition, one of our modern books of scripture urges us to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:16; interestingly enough, the next verse tells us to seek to turn “the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews”). That said, Mormons can and do serve in armies, since we believe in being subject to secular rulers and in obeying the law of the land (12th Article of Faith).
The two most instructive passages of scripture for me deal with the concept of a defensive war. In a book of scripture called the Doctrine of Covenants, God tells the persecuted Mormons in Missouri not to seek revenge on their enemies (section 98). Moreover, He reveals “the law I gave unto … Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets.” According to these verses, if any nation proclaimed war against them, they should “lift a standard of peace” to that country. If it rejected the peace offering three times, then they were to “bring these testimonies before the Lord,” who would give the commandment to go to battle against the warmongers.
In the same chapter, the Mormons in Missouri were counseled to forgive the first three attacks against them and their families and not seek revenge. However, after the fourth attack they were justified in “reward[ing] him according to his works … if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him.”
I believe that the example of the persecuted Missouri Mormons is entirely inapplicable to situations when a nation is threatened by a nuclear or massive terrorist attack. There was certainly good reason for God to warn the group not to be quick to attack their enemies: They were hopelessly outnumbered in Missouri, and could have been annihilated if they had taken revenge at the slightest provocation. On the other hand, can anyone imagine a Mormon president refusing to attack Osama and Co. after 9/11 because he felt that we should forgive them—and giving them two more freebie attacks as well? [We had suffered several unrequited attacks by al-Qaeda before 9/11, but I digress]. What worked for Abraham clearly will not always work in the age of terrorism.
The other passage of scripture is found in the Book of Mormon, in the Book of Alma (chapter 43). Around 74 BCE, the wicked Lamanites invade the land of the more righteous Nephites in order to enslave them. The Nephites want to “support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies … and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires.” The Nephite general rallies his people to defend themselves on the battlefield in order to “preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church,” and they prevail. If there is an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, I believe that it will be motivated by these same desires.
Modern LDS scriptures, like the Bible, are silent on the direct question of preemptive strikes. The Nephites in the Book of Mormon were commanded not to be the aggressors, but to defend themselves from aggression. But what if their enemies had been working feverishly to develop a weapon that could destroy every man, woman and child in the Nephite cities with the push of a button – and had repeatedly threatened to do so? My guess is that the Book of Mormon would contain accounts of Nephite preemptive attacks on their foes in order to preserve their lives and their nation.
If Israel attacks Iran, it’s important to remember that Israel will not have been guilty of the first, second, or third offense. Iran has bombed the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish center in Argentina, it has armed the terrorist groups Hizbollah and Hamas and encouraged them to attack Israel, and it has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, inter alia. The country is ruled by a satanic regime, one that uses a false interpretation of Shiite Islam to stir up anti-Semitism and to oppress, torture, and kill its own people. Every time I learn in an LDS temple that Satan uses false religious leaders and tyrants to shed blood and visit horrors upon the earth’s peoples, my mind is drawn to the mad mullahs in Tehran.
Given that Iran and its proxies have been the aggressors against Israel on countless occasions, that Israel is only seeking to preserve its nation and its people, and that many diplomatic approaches and sanctions regimes have failed to dissuade Iran from attempting to build nuclear weapons, I see nothing in LDS teachings that would require Israel to take a wait-and-see approach to a nuclear Iran. Israel is not a small group of Mormons surrounded by persecutors, and it’s not a tribe preparing for battle more than 2,000 years ago against an enemy tribe armed with swords, bows and arrows, and slingshots.
Israel was roundly criticized for bombing Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, but its action saved the region from a nuclear Saddam. Its bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor four years ago saved the region from a nuclear Assad. Israel simply cannot allow Iran to go nuclear unless it wants to commit national suicide. I believe very strongly that Latter-day Saints have an obligation to identify and resist evil in this world. Any Mormon who understands this will be behind Israel if it does try to take out Iran’s nuclear reactors. The attack could fail, and it could lead to wars with Iran and/or its proxies. I am not writing these words because I think that an attack on Iran’s reactors would be a wonderful thing to do or because I love war. I am writing to say that I, as a faithful Mormon, think that it would be justified by God.
November 1, 2011 | 9:12 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Christian: one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ. – Merriam-Webster dictionary
“It was, in the first place, declared improper to follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this holy festival, because, their hands having been stained with crime, the minds of these wretched men are necessarily blinded. ... Let us, then, have nothing in common with the Jews, who are our adversaries. ... Let us ... studiously avoiding all contact with that evil way. ... For how can they entertain right views on any point who, after having compassed the death of the Lord, being out of their minds, are guided not by sound reason, but by an unrestrained passion, wherever their innate madness carries them.” – Constantine the Great
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. – Matthew 7:20
I’ve received numerous calls and e-mails in the past month from Jewish friends and contacts who want to know why Evangelicals and Baptists feel so strongly that Mormons are not Christians. Since even they will admit that Mormons usually have good values and lead good “Christian” lives, it all comes down to certain points of LDS theology that they believe lie outside the bounds of “traditional” Christianity. I know that most Jews aren’t terribly interested in the finer points of Christian theology, so I’ll limit my discussion to two doctrines that are regularly brought up by the “Mormons aren’t Christians” crowd.
First of all, Mormons are not Trinitarians. We don’t believe in a three-in-one god (or, if you prefer, a one-in-three god). We believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit exist as three separate beings, not as one god. This belief alone is enough for many Christians to eject us from the Christian fold. Why we are criticized for refusing to follow the lead of the Jew-hater Constantine is a mystery to me.
In 325, Roman Emperor Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea in an attempt to establish a consensus in the Christian church on certain doctrinal matters. It’s important to note that Constantine was the emperor, but did not hold an ecclesiastical office in the church. [His additional title, pontifex maximus, was an office in the pagan priesthood that all Roman emperors held at that time. Sylvester I was the pope, or bishop of Rome]. The 300 or so bishops in attendance at the council (out of 1800 worldwide) came up with the famous Nicene Creed, which proclaimed that Jesus was “of one substance” with His Father. Christians who disagreed with the creed were subject to persecution. As a result, most Christians since that time have incorporated the creed into their doctrine and liturgy.
Unfortunately, the bishops also agreed with Constantine that Jews were “odious,” “detestable” and “blind.” To Mormons, this is Exhibit A for our case that the original Christian church deviated from the true path and needed to be restored by God. Here we have a secular ruler rounding up a distinct minority of bishops in his empire, who are somehow inspired to declare God’s true nature while espousing anti-Semitic views. In Constantine’s empire, conversion to Judaism and Christian-Jewish intermarriage were punishable by death. What greater evidence can there be for an apostate church than anti-Semitism at its highest levels? Mormons are proud to disagree with Constantine and his anti-Semitic bishops on the nature of God, and see no reason why their view should be a litmus test for Christianity.
Another LDS belief that raises Evangelical eyebrows is our acceptance of scriptures in addition to the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. How interesting that on this point Evangelicals are behaving like Jews vis-à-vis Christianity, since Jews believe that there is no need to add an additional testament to the scriptural canon. However, since most Jews also accept the Oral Law and the Talmud as sources of law and tradition, I think that the better comparison is between Karaite Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism.
Karaites believe that the Hebrew Bible stands alone as divinely inspired scripture for Jews, and do not consider the Talmud and the Oral Law to be binding. Just as most Jews believe that the Talmud and other rabbinic writings serve to affirm the truths contained in the Torah, Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures affirm the validity of the Bible. Evangelicals, like Karaites, say that one book is enough.
In a nutshell, some people don’t consider Mormons to be Christians because Mormons disagree with an anti-Semitic Roman emperor and reject Karaite Christianity. They’re entitled to their beliefs, but Mormons are entitled to ask why we can’t simply ask the question that Jews pose when determining whether someone is Jewish or Christian: Does a person accept Jesus Christ as his Savior? A Mormon’s answer to that question leaves no doubt as to which fold we belong. Anyone who needs convincing should read a few pages of the Book of Mormon (its full title is Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ) or books like The Infinite Atonement, written by senior LDS Church leader Elder Tad Callister.
I thank my Jewish friends for their questions and welcome future opportunities to address this issue.
I will be speaking on the current situation in the Middle East at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks, CA on Wednesday, November 2 @ 8:00 p.m.