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.
5.4.13 at 12:17 am | I read with great interest Naomi Schaefer. . .
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3.30.13 at 9:39 am | Dr. Deandre Poole's outrageous anti-Christian. . .
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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.
October 23, 2011 | 10:23 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” — Jonathan Swift
Judging from NYT columnist Maureen Dowd’s latest column (“Anne Frank, a Mormon?”), Joseph Smith was an Einstein. In her pathetic attack on Mitt Romney’s faith, Dowd includes anti-Mormon rants from two avowed atheists, Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens, as she questions “magic underwear” and “baptizing dead people.” She also shamelessly invokes Anne Frank’s name in an attempt to stir up Jews against a Mormon candidate. Considering the source of this bigotry, I’ve never been prouder to be a Mormon.
Truth be told, the LDS Church got off lightly compared to Dowd’s own. In yet another ridiculous article, she once compared the Catholic Church to Saudi Arabia, a place where “women’s rights were strangled…[in] an inbred and autocratic state.” Dowd does not take her own faith seriously, as she is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, and disagrees with official Catholic teachings on many other issues (e.g., birth control, ordination of women). It’s not hard to see why she has a problem with a candidate, especially a conservative one, who accepts his faith’s teachings and lives by them. Which candidate would the pope prefer, a faithful Mormon or an unfaithful Catholic? I think even Maureen Dowd knows the answer to that one.
I searched in vain for a Dowd hit piece on LDS Christianity when Harry Reid became the Senate Majority Leader, one of the most powerful positions on Capitol Hill. I guess Reid’s support for liberal positions that are clearly contrary to Mormon teachings (e.g., support for Planned Parenthood abortion funding and the Nevada gambling industry) must have caused her to ignore what kind of underwear he was wearing. What is unforgivable to Dowd is not where Mitt goes to church on Sundays, but the fact that he professes fealty to the principles of his faith, which happen to coincide in most cases with those teachings of the Catholic Church that Dowd rejects. Her appeal to arguments made by two anti-religion atheists to make her case shows just how flimsy it is. I’m prepared to listen to critiques of my faith from people like Richard Mouw who take their faith seriously, but I find it hard to listen to people who hate religion or who are unfaithful to their own faith tradition.
Dowd is either ill-informed or dishonest when she implies in the headline and the article that Mormons are converting the dead to their faith. I have blogged twice on this topic, and don’t feel a need to say much more. However, one bedrock LDS belief bears repeating: If Anne Frank does become a Mormon in the next life, it’s because she will have chosen to be one, not because anyone on earth has the power to force her to join the church. Any assertion to the contrary is false.
It’s not Mitt’s fault that Dowd has replaced Catholic beliefs with liberal ones and decided to attack her church at every turn. It’s not his fault that he’s a happily-married, faithful husband and father who belongs to a family-centered church, while she has ignored her church’s teachings and at 59 has yet to find a man who wants to marry her. In a well-known Book of Mormon story, men and women who are doing their best to stay faithful to God’s commandments are subjected to the “mocking” and “scoffing” of well-dressed, prideful people in a “great and spacious building.” It’s obvious to Mormons to which group Maureen Dowd belongs.
Historically, Jews and Mormons have looked to a candidate’s values, not his theology, when voting. Given the small size of our communities, that’s almost a necessity. What kind of underwear Mitt wears is as relevant to his political philosophy as an Orthodox Jewish candidate’s tallit is to his. In this election season, surely we can come up with more relevant criteria with which to evaluate candidates.
October 16, 2011 | 3:35 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Every year the question of preaching politics from the bimah arises just before the start of Rosh Hashana. This year it was radio host and author Dennis Prager’s turn to criticize the practice, which he believes is promoted exclusively by liberal rabbis. While I have not heard enough sermons to be able to judge whether liberal rabbis are the only offenders, as an interested outside observer I agree wholeheartedly with Prager’s assertion that rabbis who use the pulpit to push their political views are doing their congregants and Judaism a real disservice.
This issue does not resonate with average Mormons, who never expect to hear politics preached from their pulpits on Sundays. With the exception of gay marriage and the Equal Rights Amendment (both of which were viewed by Mormon leaders as threats to the divinely-ordained traditional family), the LDS Church hasn’t taken unequivocal public stances on political movements in my lifetime. While faithful Mormons can and do hold strong views on immigration, global warming, and Obamacare, it would be highly inappropriate to share them during worship services. LDS bishops, who head congregations, are responsible for ensuring that weekly worship services are spirit-filled and politics-free.
In fact, my objections to rabbis preaching politics from the bimah have little to do with Mormonism and everything to do with Judaism. Based on my experience, Judaism is grossly distorted by this regrettable practice, which has the added disadvantage of producing Jews who know and care more about abortion and gay marriage than they do about Jewish learning. I have witnessed examples of the conflation of political, especially social, issues and Judaism in a way that leaves one speechless. Three will suffice here.
A feminist Jewish activist who worked for a national Jewish organization insisted that abortion was the most important Jewish issue. When she was then asked to choose between a female Democratic candidate who was pro-choice and anti-Israel, and a female Democratic candidate who was pro-life and pro-Israel, she said she would “have to sit this one out.”
A Reform rabbi in the Midwest who proudly admitted to preaching his political views from the pulpit was asked in a public forum what affirmative obligations a Jew has according to the Abrahamic covenant. His response? Not to eat mammals.
A gay rabbi declared to a group of LDS and interfaith leaders that his parents had survived the Bergen- Belsen concentration camp so that he could marry another man. [I was so outraged by this statement that from that day I have been unable to use his title, preferring instead to call him by his first name.] He then went on to sign a rabbinic petition condemning Glenn Beck for – you guessed it – inappropriate references to the Holocaust. I’m pleased to report that this “rabbi” no longer has a pulpit from which to preach such nonsense.
It’s been my experience that congregants in these activist rabbis’ synagogues know less about Judaism than their counterparts in synagogues whose leaders concentrate on teaching Torah, Talmud, Jewish history and philosophy. I’d love to conduct an experiment in Los Angeles to prove my point: Prepare a 10-question quiz on Judaism, then administer it to 20 randomly selected members of Leo Baeck Temple (whose activist Reform rabbi publicly criticized Dennis Prager for his opposition to preaching politics from the bimah) and 20 members of Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue whose senior rabbi refuses to mix religion and politics. I’d bet my salary that the average VBS congregant knows more about Abraham, Herzl, and the Vilna Gaon than his counterpart at LBT.
Of course, this dynamic is not restricted to Judaism. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California is a church with an active social justice ministry. I just finished reviewing its online adult education schedule for this month. Among the offerings are “The Basics of Tibetan Buddhism Through American Eyes,” “American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West,” and “South Africa: A Nation in Transformation.” It’s hard to believe that the church’s members are getting a solid grounding in the traditional texts and traditions of the Christian faith, though their knowledge of Buddhism and Indian spirituality is probably better than average. By way of contrast, LDS congregations in Pasadena will be studying the New Testament during Sunday School lessons this month.
The “prophetic tradition” in Judaism is often invoked by rabbis who claim that their political advocacy is in line with the writings of prophets like Jeremiah and Amos. This concept does not exist in the LDS belief system. For us, one has to be a prophet before one can speak as a prophet. The messenger is ultimately more important than the message. While Amos may have championed the disadvantaged, it was the fact that a prophet of God was saying those words, rather than the words themselves, that made them scriptural. There may very well have been others in Jeremiah’s day who were advocates for the downtrodden, but only his words have been preserved because he was God’s chosen messenger and they weren’t.
There is no question that rabbis with visions of bringing justice to an unjust world have brought to pass an enormous amount of good. We have a lot to learn from them. My only quarrel here is with efforts made by some of them to hold the congregation’s Jewish learning hostage to their personal political agendas. Abortion is not the most important contemporary Jewish issue, God did not order Abraham to be a vegetarian, and Holocaust survivors didn’t suffer for the cause of gay marriage. Rather than trying to convert congregations to their political agendas, it might be better for activist rabbis to convert their followers to the timeless texts and traditions of Judaism, and then let them decide for themselves how to think about contemporary issues.
Committed, knowledgeable Jews are a powerful force for good in the world. Conflating Judaism and politics is not a way to produce more of them.
October 9, 2011 | 9:20 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Several Jewish friends have contacted me this week to get my reaction to the latest broadsides leveled at my church by Evangelicals, this time from two pastors speaking at the annual Values Voter Summit. My reaction to these comments is to publicly thank the pastors for reminding everyone that what a regional ADL director once told me remains true: Many of yesterday’s anti-Semites are today’s anti-Mormons.
In remarks made to reporters after introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry to the gathering, Dallas-based Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress called the LDS Church a “cult” and stood by his comments in a sermon this morning, saying that he had a responsibility to warn people about the “false religion” of 14 million people, including presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. The good pastor also answered “No” in his on-the-record comments when asked whether Mitt Romney was a Christian.
Given that this is the same pastor who claimed that Oprah Winfrey is doing the work of Satan, the news media largely failed to jump on what I think was his most revealing statement at the press conference: “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” I guess no Jewish politician will ever get Jeffress’ blessing if he’s running against Christians. This is in the same spirit as the pastor’s laughable assertion a few years ago that “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism ... lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell.” He has also stated that the Catholic Church represents the “genius of Satan.” If LDS Christianity has run afoul of Pastor Jeffress, it looks like we’re in good company: 14 million Mormons + 1.5 billion Muslims + 14 million Jews + 850 million Hindus + 1 billion Catholics, all condemned by the 10,000 members of Jeffress’ megachurch in Dallas.
Mitt Romney’s speech at the summit was inexplicably followed by that of Bryan Fischer, a senior official with the American Family Association (and former senior pastor) who is one of the most prominent bigots on the American political scene. Just before the summit, he delivered a speech asserting that the First Amendment does not apply to Mormons because they are not Christians (he’s said the same thing about Muslims). Why was he not asked whether it applied to Jews? I think we all know what his answer would have been.
I honestly believe that the reason many of these Evangelical leaders devote considerable time and effort to criticizing and maligning LDS Christianity is because they view it as a threat. Based on both anecdotal evidence and statements made by some Evangelical pastors, it appears that more Evangelicals convert to the LDS Church, at least in the United States, than members of any other faith. With spiritual leaders like Jeffress and Fischer, it’s not hard to understand why.
Like most Mormons, I don’t really care what Evangelicals think of our theology. I don’t believe that they are the arbiters of who is a Christian, and bigoted pastors like Jeffress and Fischer come across to Mormons as presumptuous, self-anointed blowhards. When they call down hellfire upon the heads of Jews, Mormons, and most of the world’s people unless they accept Evangelicalism’s Jesus, Mormons find it hard to take them seriously. We simply don’t care enough about their doctrines to respond in kind.
However, I do think that our friends in the Evangelical community could do a little more to emphasize similarities in our belief systems rather than differences, especially when speaking to fellow Evangelicals. Hugh Hewitt, a prominent Evangelical talk show host and attorney, is very friendly to Mormons and has built many bridges to the LDS community. It was therefore a little painful to hear him remind listeners during an interview earlier this year with an LDS apostle that he had previously told another apostle “we don’t agree on anything theologically.” How about the Ten Commandments? The Bible as scripture? Support for Jews? Belief in God? Belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ? God’s Grace? Charity? To me, it was as if a Conservative rabbi, prior to interviewing an Orthodox colleague on the radio, had inserted the disclaimer that they didn’t agree on anything. I’m willing to bet that if Hugh Hewitt and the apostle had written down all of the religious principles that they believed in, at least 90% would have matched.
This is a free country, and Evangelicals are free to apply whatever religious litmus test they want to politicians seeking their votes. If they don’t want to vote for Mormons, that’s fine. I would have no problem voting for a candidate of a different faith if he or she shared my values. However, I do take comfort that, from an LDS perspective, pastors who preach intolerance are directing their remarks to both main divisions of the House of Israel, Jews and Mormons. There is no doubt in my mind who will ultimately prevail.
September 22, 2011 | 11:44 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
In recent months I have corresponded with members of the LDS Church on two continents who are planning to convert to Judaism while remaining active Latter-day Saints (one has already begun the process). They in turn have told me of others who have completed the conversion process while remaining LDS. At first I was incredulous that anyone would attempt to do this, and I must admit that I’m even more baffled after our exchanges. While I certainly applaud their desire to draw closer to Jews and to identify with the Jewish people, I fear that they are trying to square a theological circle in a way that mocks the sacred beliefs of both faiths.
Some of the most interesting gospel conversations I’ve had have been with Jews who have converted to the LDS Church. I’m always fascinated to learn how they came to accept Jesus as their Savior, how their families reacted to their baptisms, and how they define themselves in terms of Jewishness. I think that they’re some of the bravest converts out there, and the ones that I know are very strong members of their adopted faith. I have also met a few Mormons who have become very religious Jews. I doubt very much that members of either group believe that it is possible to be a practicing Mormon and a practicing Jew at the same time, for a number of reasons.
The most obvious barrier, which to me is an insurmountable one, is the centrality of Jesus Christ in our theology. One of my correspondents maintains that “[Jewish] rejection of Jesus is incidental,” but it clearly is not: our church bears His name. Contemporary Jews do not accept the divinity of Jesus, and their belief is certainly worthy of respect. It’s not clear to me how one shows respect for this bedrock Jewish belief by pretending that one shares it while secretly harboring a belief in the divinity of Jesus.
For that is clearly what would have to happen during the conversion process. I spoke with rabbis from all three major Jewish movements, and each one said that he would not consider participating in a conversion ceremony for a candidate who professed a belief in the Christian Savior. Moreover, they would not recognize that person as Jewish even if he successfully completed the conversion process, and would report any rabbi who knowingly performed such a ceremony. For rabbis, there is a term for someone who accepts Jesus as the Son of God: a Christian, not a Jew. Whether or not individual Mormons agree with the rabbis’ criteria for becoming Jewish, it’s the height of chutzpah to come up with their own standards and then expect the rabbis to accept them.
From an LDS perspective, another barrier to conversion for active members of the church is that rabbis do not have the priesthood and the corresponding authority from God to bring people into the Abrahamic Covenant or the covenant House of Israel. I hope that this statement is not offensive to Jews, but for Mormons there is a huge difference between the Judaism of the Hebrew Bible and modern Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is not the Mosaic Judaism of prophets, temples, and priesthood. According to LDS scriptures, Adam was the first “Mormon,” or covenant Israelite, on earth, and Jesus observed the Law of Moses (which He gave) when it still needed to be observed. However, rabbinic Judaism doesn’t recognize Him and His Atonement. For Mormons, if Moses were to walk the streets once again, he would not be worshipping in an Orthodox synagogue but in LDS chapels and temples.
For Mormons, an authorized baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is the only way that people on earth today can be made heirs to the eternal promises made to Abraham. If a Mormon submits to the authority of a rabbinic conversion court (called a beth din), which is acting without priesthood authority, then he is saying in effect that LDS priesthood and baptism don’t matter, since one can obtain the same blessings and privileges from a rabbinic court. My respect and admiration for rabbis are boundless, but my theology limits their ability to act in God’s name.
A Jewish conversion has two parts: a religious act and a public affirmation of the desire to associate with the Jewish people. For a believing Mormon who “converts” to Judaism, the ceremony can only be a kind of initiation into a club or bestowal of citizenship by a nation. Since he is already a member of the House of Israel and an heir to Abraham’s promises, the conversion cannot have any religious significance for him.
One of the more interesting statements came from a European Latter-day Saint who is of Jewish descent. According to him, “Mormonism in its forms is for Gentiles outside Israel.” This is an elegant theory, but there is nothing in LDS theology that supports it. While Mormons have no obligation to target Jews (or any other group, for that matter) for conversion, we don’t have a separate gospel for Jews. We also don’t have a way in our belief system to recognize the co-equal authority of other faith leaders to act in God’s name while performing ordinances, ceremonies and sacraments. No one else can perform eternal marriages, sealings, posthumous baptisms, etc. Our gospel is for everyone on earth, regardless of race, creed, or color. All are free to accept or reject it, but the Gentile/Jew distinction in Christianity was erased following Peter’s vision in the tenth chapter of Acts.
Most confusing to me was the assertion made by two correspondents that Jewish religious law (halacha) is a “national law” that Mormons need to sustain according to our Twelfth Article of Faith (“We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”). This is clearly a secular argument, since LDS Church doctrine does not recognize Jewish law as being binding on its members.
To begin with, halacha is not the “national law” of Israel, which is a secular Jewish democracy. Even if it were, only Mormons living in Israel would need to recognize and/or be subject to it. It’s not at all clear to me how respecting halacha as a “national law” (even though it’s not one) would inspire a Mormon to convert to Judaism while retaining Christian beliefs.
Righteous Gentiles are people who adopt Jewish beliefs and practices without converting to Judaism. In my opinion, this is the best option for Mormons who feel a strong affinity and love for Jews and wish to identify with them. It allows these church members to become “Jewish” while respecting the theological integrity of both faith traditions.
Indeed, integrity and honesty are values that both faiths embrace. I know of one Jewish convert to the LDS Church who received Israeli citizenship after fully disclosing his current religious affiliation. However, he did not undergo a religious conversion, probably because he still considers himself to be fully Jewish.
The only way that Mormons can engage with Jews is in a spirit of honesty and openness. LDS Christianity is a universal faith, and is not only for Gentiles. In fact, there are no Gentile members of the Church; in our belief system, they’ve all become (or remained) Israelites. There is no legitimate reason for a believing Mormon to contemplate conversion to Judaism. Truth be told, if he is 100% honest with the rabbinic court, they will not allow him to convert. Indeed, the most revealing confession in my correspondence was the admission of one man that “I hide much of my Mormonism” when dealing with Jews. My correspondents want to be fully accepted by Jews, and feel that conversion is the way to accomplish that. They are mistaken. They express admiration for the outreach efforts of Jews for Jesus
and Messianic Jews, but these groups are rejected by Jews from every movement.
I am in complete agreement with one statement made by a European member: “We do not know many things about what God is doing among the Jews.” However, it’s probably a safe bet that He is not inspiring Mormons to hide their faith while becoming Jews, even if they want to ingratiate themselves with their fellow Israelites. In the end, one can’t believe that Jesus is the Savior and that He isn’t, that the Law of Moses was fulfilled by the Atonement and that it remains valid today, that the LDS Church is the only institution authorized by God to administer His ordinances on earth—and that it isn’t, that LDS temple ordinances are necessary and that they aren’t. One can only reconcile the two by watering down and distorting both LDS and Jewish doctrines, and it won’t work. When we try to build bridges between the two faiths, we can’t do it by trying to create a hybrid religion. Both Judaism and LDS Christianity deserve better.
August 22, 2011 | 12:38 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
I knew I had to write this essay after reading that Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Courage” pro-Israel events scheduled for this week were denounced by both liberal Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater and racist right-wing Israeli blowhard Moshe Feiglin. According to Beck’s website, the purpose of the rallies in Israel is to show that “Israel does not stand alone.” Today’s kickoff event, a gathering of mostly American Christians in Caesarea, featured several speakers who delivered strong pro-Israel messages. A Holocaust commemoration is to follow tomorrow, and a big rally near the Temple Mount will be held on Wednesday night.
Beck’s love for Israel hasn’t prevented him from being targeted by his ideological opponents in the Jewish community. Rabbi Grater, a liberal Conservative Jewish leader, denounced him as a “fundamentalist-extremist” whose rally in Jerusalem will be “nothing more than a media-driven, money-making, self-serving, end-of-times messianic-lunacy circus show.” This is not the first time that liberal rabbis have attacked Beck: 400 of them signed an ad earlier this year demanding that Fox sanction him (I publicly criticized the ad), and he in turn has called Reform rabbis’ involvement in politics “almost like radicalized Islam.”
Feiglin’s anti-Beck comments were more surprising, since they came from a man who believes in strengthening Israel’s Jewish identity by restricting citizenship to Jews, denying Israeli Arabs civil rights, and forcibly kicking out Arabs who don’t recognize Jewish sovereignty in Israel. You’d think that Feiglin would applaud a prominent American media personality who was holding pro-Israel events in his country. However, instead of gratitude the wannabe politician expressed his opposition to Beck for infringing on Jews’ “spiritual sovereignty” by holding his Jerusalem rally so close to the Temple Mount.
When it comes to Glenn Beck, I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. I try to evaluate his actions individually. As a result, I have written an essay taking him to task for inappropriate comments about George Soros, and I have also defended him against attacks by liberal rabbis that I felt were unfair and politically motivated. I would ordinarily applaud anyone who organizes pro-Israel events in Jerusalem, but after further investigation I am inclined to agree with Rabbi Grater’s assessment of Beck’s rally. In fact, I’d like to add one more adjective to the list: delusional.
Since the organizers of Restoring Courage aren’t publicizing details of the events, I decided to hear what Beck himself had to say about them. Although I don’t listen to his radio show, I did listen to many recordings from the show in which he discussed his plans for this week. His vanity seems boundless. What else to make of Beck’s announcement on the air that the rally in Jerusalem will be a “planet course- altering event” where “there’s a possibility a pillar of fire appears?” Or his suggestion that the gathering could well fulfill a prophecy of Zechariah and that it will open the “very gates of heaven?” It’s no wonder that members of Congress like Senator Joe Lieberman and Rep. Eric Cantor have bailed on Beck after promising to come.
When I was the regional executive director of a Jewish organization, I constantly preached to Jewish audiences the need to accept support for Israel from everyone, regardless of race, creed or religion. For the most part, Jews in this country have done so. However, Jews and sober people of all faiths also need to take a stand against delusional self-aggrandizement masquerading as Israel advocacy. Israel is not just a pawn on Glenn Beck’s eschatological chessboard. While the Mormons I know are not nearly as obsessed with end-times theology as many other Christians, Mr. Beck clearly believes that he has been called on a divine mission to enlighten the world before the end comes.
This is primarily a religion blog, so I feel a need to point out a theological concern that I have with Beck’s recent statements. His unfortunate obsession with end times themes and delusional statements about playing a role in the fulfillment of prophecies can cause thoughtful Jews to lump Mormons together with other Christian groups whose theology focuses on eschatology. I winced when I read Rabbi Grater’s characterization of Beck’s rally as an “end-of-times messianic-lunacy circus show.” While Mormons do tend to interpret literally the events predicted in the Book of Revelation and in our modern scriptures, we do not put “In the Event of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned” bumper stickers on our cars or spend a great deal of time worrying or obsessing over events leading up to the end of the world. We choose to concentrate instead on preparing ourselves spiritually for that which is to come.
As we see from recent headlines, Israelis have real problems (some of them existential) to deal with. It strains credulity to believe that they need someone like Glenn Beck – a non-Jew who has never lived in their country, doesn’t speak Hebrew, and has a Messiah complex – to teach them about courage. Rabbi Grater and Moshe Feiglin may not agree on much else, but they’re right to oppose Glenn Beck’s Holy Land Vanity Project. Until a pillar of fire appears at a Beck event, count me a skeptic as well.
July 10, 2011 | 11:01 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Readers of this blog know that I love to profile Mormons who are actively engaged in reaching out to Jews. Leslie Pearson Rees is a great-grandmother who has spent 40 years studying the lost tribes of Israel during her travels around the country and in Africa. I’ve just finished reading her labor of love, the book “Ye Have Been Hid: Finding the Lost Tribes of Israel,” and plan to recommend it to Mormons and non-Mormons who want a primer on LDS beliefs concerning the House of Israel.
The concept of covenant Israel is an eternal one for Mormons, and Leslie presents the scriptural record of Israelites in a clear and logical way. The title of the book comes from a scripture in the LDS book Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 86:9) that addresses the “lawful heirs” of the covenant who serve as a “light unto the Gentiles.” This topic is of great interest to Mormons, who believe that they are members of the House of Israel and receive blessings from “patriarchs” that assign them to an Israelite tribe through which they will receive their ultimate spiritual blessings.
The author begins by giving the LDS understanding of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. She correctly points out that these promises were extended to all Israelites, not just to members of certain tribes. After analyzing the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms and the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities that forever changed the course of Israelite history, Leslie answers the question “Who is of Israel?” with the following statement: “While those of Judah are most definitely a part of the whole House of Israel, not all of the House of Israel are of Judah.”
Undoubtedly the most interesting chapters of the book for non-Mormons are those dealing with the Israelite themes in the Book of Mormon and the latter-day gathering of Israel. Leslie also presents an interesting take on the LDS understanding of the term “Gentile” in scripture. I especially appreciated her discussion of the oft-misunderstood scripture in Jeremiah (16:16) where God promises to send “fishers” and “hunters” to gather scattered Israelites from the nations of the world. Some Evangelical pastors have erroneously hinted that this verse refers to monsters like Hitler, and I was pleased to read an informed LDS viewpoint on the verse.
The second part of the book recounts various histories and legends relating to Israelites from around the world, many of which will be familiar to Jews who have an interest in the subject.
The author has a great love for Israel and the Jewish people, and it shows on every page of this book. I enjoyed meeting her earlier this year in Salt Lake City, and hope that many non-Mormons will take the time to read her book in order to gain a greater understanding of our beliefs concerning the House of Israel. Yasher koach, Leslie.
June 27, 2011 | 10:10 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
In the past few weeks I’ve received a few dozen e-mails and calls from Mormons asking my opinion on whether a Palestinian state should be created in September. Most Mormons I know are against the idea, but a few support it. When I run across a Mormon who is more sympathetic to the Palestinian narrative, I react in the same way that I do when I come across Jews who highlight Palestinian suffering: by giving thanks.
Both of our religious traditions promote kindness, empathy, and charity. When a Mormon tells me that her Palestinian friends’ stories have moved her to try to view things through their eyes, that’s a good thing. Ditto for a Jew who visits the West Bank and comes away questioning the wisdom of the ongoing occupation. The fact that Mormons and Jews value fairness and oppose injustice will inevitably lead some members of both faiths to embrace Palestinian nationalism. I would worry if this were not the case.
Truth be told, I was almost one of them. During my last two years at BYU, several of my good friends were Palestinians and Jordanians. We discussed politics a lot, and the Palestinians took every opportunity to tell me how brutal the Israeli occupation was and to describe their longing to have a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. It was impossible not to empathize with their stories of suffering, though there was always a voice in the back of my head warning me not to rush to judgment. After all, I had had many positive interactions with Jews and Judaism, and the Palestinians’ perception of Jews didn’t square with mine. Everything became much clearer when I had the chance to live in Israel for two years and interview many Arabs and Jews about the reality of living there.
There is one interesting difference between Jews who side with Palestinians and Mormons who do so. Almost all Jews who openly side with Palestinians are secular, while their Mormon counterparts are often as religiously observant as Mormons who side with Israel. With the exception of a few fringe ultra-Orthodox groups, support for Israel is almost universal among Orthodox Jews. It has become an axiom that a good way to ensure that a Jewish child loves Israel is to teach it to love Judaism and to live an observant Jewish life. One way to ensure that a Mormon child loves Israel is to teach it to make basic moral distinctions among people and groups.
If I could herd all of these empathetic Mormons into a room for a tachles discussion on the Middle East, the following items would be on the agenda:
1) The fact that God loves all of His children is useless as a means of analyzing what is happening in the world. If we can’t criticize evil leaders or groups because we believe that God loves them, we can’t be a force for good in the world. God loved Hitler and Eichmann, but moral people still needed to oppose Nazi Germany in WWII. There’s no doubt that God has unbounded love for Syria’s President Assad, but I certainly hope that all thinking Mormons (and Jews) oppose the brutal war that he’s currently waging on his own people.
2) Just as it is wrong to stereotype individuals based on their race, ethnicity or nationality, it is also wrong to impute the positive characteristics of individuals to their governments or leaders. I recall reading a letter to the editor in BYU’s newspaper around the time of the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008 to stop rocket attacks by Hamas, the ruling party. The writer’s argument seemed to be that BYU students shouldn’t automatically support Israel because there were nice Palestinian students on campus from Gaza. Well, those students may well be the nicest ones on earth, but their niceness has zero ability to influence the terrorist group Hamas. I too had nice Palestinian friends at BYU, but their friendship didn’t change Arafat’s support for terror.
3) Some Mormons fail to see the forest for the trees when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They hear stories of hardship and tragedy from Palestinians, and they project these individual tales of woe onto the Palestinian nationalist movement as a whole. Because my friend Ahmad was humiliated at a checkpoint, that means that the Palestinian narrative is equally valid because both sides are doing bad things. This is the moral equivalent of saying that because my friend who survived the bombing of Dresden accused Allied soldiers of atrocities, that means that both sides were equally wrong in WWII. Instead of using Ahmad’s statements as an indictment of Israel, the smart question to ask would be why Israel feels the need to have its young soldiers man checkpoints in the first place. I know why, because I lived in Tel Aviv when buses and cafes were regularly blown up.
4) I don’t believe that the Book of Mormon prophets wrote about the Gadianton robbers (a secret band of robbers and criminals) just to fill space on the metal plates. There are evil groups and movements in the world, and it is irresponsible to pretend that we are obligated as Mormons to put on our blinders and pretend that everyone is equally moral and just. Just because there are competing narratives doesn’t mean that they are all equally valid.
Mormons who believe that their neutrality on the Israeli-Arab conflict will allow them to bring the two groups together are misguided. (I say this as someone who was asked by Jews and Muslims to conduct the memorial service for a Pakistani journalist). Why would Jews trust someone who can’t make basic moral distinctions in the conflict? It is for this reason that I do not refer to LDS supporters of Palestinian nationalism as “pro-Palestinian,” since true supporters of Palestinians would want them to live in a prosperous, thriving, peaceful democracy. There is no chance of that happening with Hamas and Fatah as their rulers, yet there is very little criticism of these groups from “pro-Palestinian” Latter-day Saints.
5) I have personally witnessed improper treatment of Arabs by Israelis, and think that this should be condemned by all thoughtful people. I have intervened more than once at an Israeli security checkpoint to prevent harassment of a Palestinian (most recently in Bethlehem), and will continue to do so. Moreover, I am under no illusion that Israelis are perfect or that they do not sometimes treat Palestinians abominably. On one occasion an Israeli settler in Kiryat Arba pointed a machine gun at me, an American diplomat in a suit, and demanded that I leave because I wasn’t Jewish. One can only imagine how he must treat poor Palestinians who cross his path. However, I no more view these unfortunate events as an indictment of Israel than I viewed Abu Ghraib as an indictment of all American soldiers in Iraq.
The old adage is still true: If Palestinians laid down their guns tomorrow, there would be no more conflict. If the Israelis laid down their guns tomorrow, there would be no more Israel. Unfortunately, the Palestinian nationalist movement has been headed for decades by anti-Semitic Gadiantons. This does not mean that all (or most) Palestinians are bad, but it does mean that we can—and must—make a moral distinction between a movement that has employed terror and led its people and the region into misery, and a modern state that produces Nobel Prize winners, leading universities, high-tech companies and world-class hospitals. We are free to love individuals of all nations, but I’m confident that Mormons (and Jews) who seek the power of discernment in the Middle East and elsewhere will not ultimately be deceived. As the good book says, by their fruits we shall know them.
May 17, 2011 | 11:31 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Last Friday night I had the honor of speaking on behalf of the Consulate General of Israel in Glendale, CA at Temple Sinai’s service celebrating Israel’s independence. I debated whether to give the typical rah-rah, rally-the-troops kind of speech that one normally hears in synagogues on that day, and decided in the end to be as honest as possible about the disturbing, almost depressing current state of affairs in the Middle East. However, I remain optimistic that Israel will continue to prevail and to prosper.
From my outsider’s perch, Israel is clearly the most important contemporary Jewish issue. It is the embodiment of the yearning of generations of Jews for just one place on earth where they could be left alone to prosper and thrive. [Thankfully, there are now at least two places on earth where Jews can do this – the United States and Israel]. It is also the embodiment of the Abrahamic covenant, and of the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Sinai. Israel is active, not passive Judaism, and it is a modern miracle. How anyone who is familiar with the establishment and survival of this tiny Jewish state amidst dozens of countries who want to destroy it can doubt the existence of the God of Israel is beyond me. When I walk the streets of Jerusalem, I feel closer to God. When I pick up a Hebrew newspaper, I marvel that an ancient language has been revived, and is now used to run a modern stock exchange, a nuclear reactor, world-class hospitals, and high-tech companies.
I have traveled to more than a dozen European countries in the last two years to give pro-Jewish speeches in many languages because I feel that it is necessary. I’m very worried about anti-Semitism in Europe and Latin America, and believe that there is a direct correlation between someone’s willingness to identify himself as “pro-Jewish” and his level of support for Israel, regardless of nationality. I cringe whenever I hear a Jew say that a social or political issue is the preeminent Jewish one of our time. Whatever a Jew’s political beliefs may be, the welfare of a Jewish state with almost 6 million of his coreligionists has to trump them, at least as a Jewish issue.
Things are looking rather bleak for Israel right now, and it’s time for its supporters to circle the wagons. I shared with the Friday night audience some words of advice that a Jewish man gave me when I first started working in the Jewish community. I told him that many Mormons had asked me how to they could convince their Jewish friends that they too were members of the House of Israel. Did he have any advice? He quickly responded that it was not important whether Jews believed it – it was important that Mormons did. If Mormons strongly believe that they are Israelites, and this belief causes them to show great love towards Jews and to respect Judaism, what Jew is going to fault them for believing this? Similarly, supporters of Israel need to show their support for the country and to have that support translate into action. It’s always a beautiful thing to see this dynamic at work.
Israel at 63 needs our prayers. My prayer is that the country’s 64th independence day anniversary will find Israel and the other countries in the region living in peace. In the likely event that that does not happen, I’ll settle for seeing many previously apathetic Israel supporters mobilized for the tough times that lie ahead. I encouraged the worshipers at Temple Sinai to become ambassadors for Israel and for Judaism, and they responded positively to my challenge. The establishment of the State of Israel is one of the greatest physical evidences of God’s existence, and more people of all faiths need to be saying this. Here’s to hoping that more people around the world will listen.
April 30, 2011 | 9:53 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Last month I came across a thoughtful blog post on Orthodox Jews and Mormons by Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill, the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair of Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University. After a brief e-mail exchange, the rabbi was kind enough to post my answers to his questions on LDS-Orthodox dialogue. Here is an excerpt:
1] Which Orthodox rabbis are you friendly with or impressed with? why?
Rather than list specific rabbis, I’d prefer to list organizations with which I have worked. The OU, Agudath Israel, The Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance, Jews for Judaism, the Sephardic Educational Center, Harvard Hillel and many LA-area Orthodox synagogues all have rabbis whom I know and admire. Last summer I conducted an especially meaningful dialogue with a Montreal Orthodox rabbi. I am very impressed by their dedication to Torah-based Judaism and Jewish values, and the way in which they use their influence both to strengthen their own communities and to work with people of faith to improve the world. I have attended OU seminars and lectures on kashrut laws and dina d’malchuta dina, welcomed the collaboration of the OU and Agudath Israel with Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, and Evangelicals to pass Proposition 8 in California, attended a luncheon sponsored by Jews for Judaism, taken a Torah class from an inspired SEC rabbi, and conducted a town hall meeting on gay marriage at a leading Orthodox shul.
2] What theological topics do you talk with them?
It’s hard to identify a common theme to my religious discussions with Orthodox rabbis. Together we’ve explored many topics: the obligations associated with the Abrahamic covenant, what it means to be created b’tselem, whether dina d’malchuta dina can ever trump Torah law, whether evil was divinely created, the role of Satan in Jewish thought, why certain prohibitions are contained in the Noahide Laws, and why religious Jews and Mormons wear sacred garments.
Two weeks ago, I had the distinct honor of giving the D’var Torah to the Orthodox minyan at Harvard University. After discussing lepers and cleansing, I thanked the Orthodox for standing for morality and Torah values in a world that sorely needs them. I’ll never forget this experience.
3] Why is Mormon-Orthodox Jewish dialogue important?
Mormons generally consider the Orthodox to be Jews who take G-d and their religion seriously. We have enormous respect for people who believe that the Hebrew Bible is a divine book, and that this knowledge obligates us to act in certain ways. On a personal level, I have found that Orthodox Jews are usually much more knowledgeable about their own faith than their Reform and Conservative counterparts.
Given that Mormons believe that they are modern-day Israelites and that their theology is far more complete than other Christian belief systems on the Abrahamic covenant, chosenness and Israel, the prophetic tradition, etc., it’s only natural that they would seek to dialogue with Jews who look to Judaism, not secular liberalism, for enlightenment on these questions.
The LDS Church as a whole is interested in working with other faiths in two areas: humanitarian aid and promoting religious freedom. At the grass roots level, however, Mormons love Jews, Judaism, and Israel, and any attempt by the Orthodox to engage in dialogue with us would be warmly welcomed.
4] Do the Orthodox rabbis ever learn about Mormonism and its doctrines?
I’ve fielded many questions from Orthodox rabbis on LDS beliefs and practice. On one occasion the local LDS Church’s public affairs committee invited a group of LA-based rabbis to visit the temple in Draper, Utah, before it was dedicated. An Orthodox rabbi was in the group, and he was very appreciative of the chance to learn more about our sacred rituals.
5] If there is one message that would give an Orthodox audience?
Mormons have enormous respect for Judaism and Jews, and we have more to say to religious Jews than do other Christians.
6] Where do you see the most divergence?
Mormons have temples, revelation through prophets, and the priesthood. We consider them to be both necessary and irreplaceable. When we read the Hebrew Bible, we see a pattern of G-d calling prophets, giving them His word, and the sending them to transmit it to the masses.
There are no authorized dissenting voices in the Torah. Therefore, when a Mormon reads the Talmud, with its quarreling rabbis and multiple interpretations of scriptural passages, it’s difficult for him to accept the rabbinic/Talmudic tradition as being a continuation of temple-based Judaism. For us, there can’t be a prophetic tradition without prophets.
7] Is there any advice that you would give someone who is not used to encounter with Mormons.
Mormons do not believe that Jews and others who reject Jesus Christ as the Savior are going to hell. [For us the deadline for accepting G-d’s truths is not death, but the olam ha-ba]. Also, there is no room in LDS doctrine for replacement theology. The Abrahamic covenant is at the center of our temple worship, and children born to couples who have been “sealed” in our temples are said to be “born in the [Abrahamic] covenant.” To be sure, our definition of that covenant is more expansive than the Jewish one, but the idea that the Abrahamic covenant has been replaced by something else is antithetical to our beliefs. Does the covenant still apply to Jews? Yes. Are they keeping all of its requirements? That would make for a fascinating dialogue topic.
I will be leading a tour to Israel in March 2012 for Morris Murdock Travel. For more information, please visit this link
I will be speaking at an LDS singles conference in Santa Barbara, CA on May 21