Episode 141: The Top 10 Mormon Criminals

John is joined by Jim, Robyn, Amy and Zilpha to discuss the all time top 10 Mormon criminals.

Elizabeth Smart
Brian David Mitchell

Hoffman
Mark Hoffman with the Prophets

Episode 141

68 comments on “Episode 141: The Top 10 Mormon Criminals”

      • Anonymous Reply

        D’oh!  You’re right.  I was a Doubting Thomas and verified with Google.  I thought for sure that guy was a Mo.

      • Anonymous Reply

        D’oh!  You’re right.  I was a Doubting Thomas and verified with Google.  I thought for sure that guy was a Mo.

  1. Kris Fielding Reply

    I was expecting Brigham Young to be on the list at the very least for his influence on Rockwell, Hickman, and Lee by creating an environment for their crimes to happen, if not for ordering them.

  2. Anonymous Reply

    shouldn’t that middle photo be labeled as “Brian David Mitchell”? instead of ‘elizabeth smart’?

    just asking.

    • Anonymous Reply

      There are three people in the photo. Elizabeth Smart, Unknown Party Guy
      and Brian David Mitchell. I labeled it “Elizabeth Smart” because we said
      in the podcast we would post a picture of Elizabeth at the party. And
      we did.

      • Anonymous Reply

        Understandable but it comes across as the mormon criminal being elizabeth smart….

        by the way, although I agree that ‘Mormonism’ played a part in the formation of brian david mitchell, I think many misread its effect. Mormonism was actually possitive for him while it lasted.

        As Dr Welner pointed out during the trial, Mitchell actually benefited from the structure and order the church brought into his already chaotic life, but he couldn’t go any higher than bishop’s counsellor (calling Ed Smart had then too by the way). The frustration caused by that, coupled with his already narcissist personality and his paedophilia all contributed to forming the ‘prophet’ in robes. But it was his paedophilia
        and delusions of grandeur that convinced him to kidnap teenage girls
        (remember that he attempted to kidnap 2 other teens).

        So although the man was a product of the church to some extent, he’s really just as much a product of Mormonism as you or I are. But, his criminal behaviour was a result of his paedophilia, delusions of grandeur and narcissism rather than anything to do with the church, imho, although many critics of the church try their best to embarrass the church with Mitchell’s former associations to it.

        If someone like Bishop -the child killer- can’t today be explained off by his mormon church background, then surely Mitchell can’t be either.

        Note that the other shrinks argued that he was not competent to stand trial but didn’t offer an opinion on his state of mind back in 2002.

        • Anonymous Reply

          But that ignores the fact that his criminal modus operandi was completely defined by Mormonism. If he hadn’t been raised in the Church would he have considered himself a prophet and kidnapped children to take as plural wives? Probably not.

          It is true that I am a product of Mormonism, but I am not a criminal so I am not on the list.

          • Anonymous

            Well here there is something to disagree on. For me
            Mitchell’s prophet persona and ideals on polygamy may have been a consequence
            of his Mormon culture but his criminality and modus operandi was a product of
            his paedophilia and narcissism. He actually used his knowledge of religion to
            cover several crimes; eg he knew that by claiming that his religion prohibited a man
            from looking at his “daughters face” (a muslim tradition not a mormon
            one by the way) that then the detective in that library would respectfully
            comply with his religion. 

            So with regards to your: “and kidnapped children to take as
            plural wives? Probably not”…..Actually the answer is Probably Yes for
            the kidnapping and rape of teen girls because he was a paedophile who progressed
            to that level. If he were a Baptists, then he’d have fashioned the kidnapping
            like Jaycee Duggards case and if he were an atheists he have fashioned it like
            the Hornbeck case. But the point is that because he was a paedophile and criminal
            mastermind he kidnapped, it isn’t at all that because he was ex-mormon that he kidnapped
            for polygamy’s sake.

            With you or I, we talk and discuss mormon related issues because we are a
            product of mormonism -went to primary, mission, temple etc- but because neither
            you or I are paedophiles or incredible narcissists we don’t go out kidnapping
            teen girls. They are different issues and, true, neither of us need to be on
            this list. I think you misunderstood what I was saying about that in the
            previous comment.

          • Anonymous

            Do you have any evidence to back up your claim that Mitchell was a pedophile?  Had he been involved in it before the Smart case?

          • Anonymous

            The word ‘evidence’ is very peculiar.

            However, from memory, my evidence on Mitchell’s paedophilia
            is what was said during the trial: one former stepdaughter testified that he
            sexually abused her form around age 7 onwards (from memory it was 7 odd to 12
            odd) plus his father testifying that he went to juvee for exposing himself to a
            4 year old when he was 16, plus Smart herself mentioned a story of sexual
            impropriety he told her about and he was aged 18 at the time, plus his former
            stake president who said that he was looking into accusations of paedophilia
            against Mitchell but he became angered and moved out of that stake and nothing
            happened after that; plus some neighbours testifying of finding photos of young
            girls that Mitchell had hidden but he moved out before anything happened. Apart
            from all that, his second wife formally accused him of sexually abusing their 4
            year old because of the things the toddler was doing. She actually went to
            police and to the church authorities but no one did anything. So if there is a
            story with Mitchell and the church it’s about the lack of belief of authorities
            that he was a paedophile since his wife accused him of it in the early 80’s.
            Had they stopped him then, then the Smart case would probably never have
            happened.

            Most of the prosecution’s argument was to show that Mitchell
            was actually just a paedophile who used religion to cover his crimes and get
            away with more sexual crimes. It was the defence that argued that he had these
            revelations which made him insane and not responsible for his sexual crimes (events
            which were stipulated by the way)

          • Anonymous

            because non-scientific evidence is very subjective. we only have here peoples testimony and one can never be completely sure that people are 100%  truthful, although the court assumes they are.

          • Patriarchal_Gripe

            I feel sorry for poor Elizabeth Smart, not just for the experience she suffered at the hands of a criminal almost a decade ago but for the day she comes to the realization that BDM and Joseph Smith Jr. are two peas in a pod.  Both used religious belief to justify their actions with young girls.  I honestly hope she never hears or reads about Helen Mar Kimball.  I do think she is a brave soul for standing up to him in court.

          • Patriarchal_Gripe

            I feel sorry for poor Elizabeth Smart, not just for the experience she suffered at the hands of a criminal almost a decade ago but for the day she comes to the realization that BDM and Joseph Smith Jr. are two peas in a pod.  Both used religious belief to justify their actions with young girls.  I honestly hope she never hears or reads about Helen Mar Kimball.  I do think she is a brave soul for standing up to him in court.

          • Anonymous

            Smith never kidnapped girls in the middle of the night nor raped them up in some camp.

            Smith had at worst an arranged marriage, if it is actually true that it happened off course, but that far from criminal kidnapping and rape. Plus Smith was arrested many times and defended himself, never claimed insanity nor anything similar.

            I hope Smart will find out about Helen Kimball because there is no reason whatsoever to encourage censorship.

          • Megan

            I do think that emotional/psychological pressure needs to be considered, powerfully, as well as physical pressure. Joseph Smith told his young to-be-wives that not only their own, but their family’s eternal salvation depended on the girls’s surrendering to him as his wives. While it’s nice, and (sadly) easy to categorize this as ‘different’ from a physical threat… it’s not quite that simple. Truly – if you are told, and believe, that eternal salvation for your beloved parents depends on allowing some man to be you ‘husband’, would you see that as a simple suggestion?

            Remember that these young girls were made plural wives at a time when they had no support – they could not be acknowledged, they could not be publicly pointed to as a demonstration of a (later redacted) revelation. They were put into a sociological category that had no precedence and they were utterly isolated. This? This is horrific. No, girls of this age were not normally made wives, and even if they were, they were certainly not made plural wives. There was an enormous social stigma that all of the girls involved were aware of, and for them there was no recourse. They had no support. Older wives, understandably, deeply resented them, and they could not publicly reveal their trauma because polygamy (per Joseph and others) simply wasn’t happening.

            Yes, Helen Kimball is an egregious example of Smith’s predation on women, but let’s look at the first one, at Fanny Alger who was 16, who was utterly in Joseph Smith’s power at the time, and who was taken as a ‘plural wife’ far before polygamy was declared, much less when it was claimed as holy rite.

            Please, do not reduce the experience of the young victims of polygamy by claiming that a lack of physical threat (that we know of) makes their trial somehow holy.

          • Anonymous

            ” do not reduce the experience of the young victims of polygamy by claiming”

            I never did and never will. However there is still a huge difference between teen brides, teen polygamist wives and what Smart went through. Plus I think the record shows that people like Heber Kimball thought it was a matter of salvation etc not so much Helen, however girls back then couldn’t say much that went against their fathers will, mormon or non-mormon. it was the 1830 long before women could vote, study medicine etc etc…

            the problem here is that people will twist things as far as possible to somehow equate Joseph Smith to Brian Mitchell but Smart herself said repeatedly that Mitchell’s religious persona was all BS and that only the threats of death kept her controlled. With Smith many people actually left him even with the apostates curse and excommunication threats or condemned to hell threats.

        • Anonymous Reply

          But that ignores the fact that his criminal modus operandi was completely defined by Mormonism. If he hadn’t been raised in the Church would he have considered himself a prophet and kidnapped children to take as plural wives? Probably not.

          It is true that I am a product of Mormonism, but I am not a criminal so I am not on the list.

  3. Helaman's Wife Reply

    I think the important thing about Ron Lafferty is that it was his anger at Brenda for convincing his wife to leave him that led to his “revelation.”  It was pure spite, not anything inspired.  In Mormonism, we are taught to seek for guidance from God or the “Spirit”, but more often than not, I think most people get inspiration for what they themselves simply want.  

    Ron wanted revenge on Brenda and convinced himself that the message/revelation to “remove” her came from God.  He cowered when the moment of murder faced him, probably because he knew he was simply using his anger (and the religious fervor of himself and others) to hurt someone.  Dan encouraged him to continue and then took over for him, fully believing in the validity of Ron’s “removal revelation” being “the Lord’s business.”   After Dan murdered Brenda and her baby, they made a failed attempt to murder two others listed in the revelation… a bishop’s wife and a stake president who assisted Ron’s wife in leaving him… which illustrates Ron’s motive of revenge.

    Dan’s full belief in Ron fueled his ability to kill rather easily and quickly… and it makes me think about the gullibility and then “faithfulness” of believers/followers in general.  Joseph Smith had ardent believers too, and I have to wonder if he ever wondered about them, and why they believed so strongly in him when he probably knew better.  Of course, I do think Joseph Smith began to believe he was called as a prophet, after all, why else would so many people believe so strongly in him if he weren’t a prophet?  I think Dan believed in Ron more than Ron believed in himself.  Without Dan’s overwhelming support and insistence on murdering Brenda and her baby, perhaps Ron would have given up when his resolve weakened.  

    It would be great if the church (and society) didn’t foster having such complete faith in others to receive revelation… especially revelation that makes no good sense or causes harm.  Dan Lafferty said to Erica, Brenda’s 15 month old baby, right before he murdered and almost decapitated her, “I’m not sure what this is all about, but apparently it’s God’s will that you leave this world;  perhaps we can talk about it later.”  Not that Prop 8 compares very well here, but I remember telling my son that Prop 8 made no sense at all to me, but I knew the prophet would never lead us astray, and that maybe one day we would understand WHY he seemed bent on hurting so many people.  Thank goodness that began a bit of investigation and our whole family leaving the church a year ago.

    So, I think the Lafferty brothers illustrate that “inspiration” can sometimes be rooted in human emotion (like anger) and/or at times simply in what someone wants.  I have a sister who acts like she talks to God directly regarding EVERY thing and she doesn’t seem to notice our raised eyebrows or questioning looks when she tells us about it.  It’s kind of kooky and kind of spooky… and she is Mormon to the core, taking her personal revelation very seriously.  She doesn’t ever talk about following the Spirit or feeling impressions or having promptings.  She makes it sound as if God talks to her face to face, but I’ve never been brave enough to ask her exactly how they chat.  I personally believe that her guidance comes straight from her own wishes… and sometimes it’s pretty comical… listening to her talk about what God told her to do (again and again… I’ve never met anyone else like that).  Maybe all religion carries the risk of errant revelation.

    • Fred W. Anson Reply

      YOU WROTE
      ‘I think the important thing about Ron Lafferty is that it was his anger at Brenda for convincing his wife to leave him that led to his “revelation.”‘

      MY RESPONSE
      In other words, he was just following “The Joseph Smith” formula that I wrote about in my first blog (see http://mormonexpression.com/blogs/?p=945 ) as were the other people that you describe in your post.

      MY WROTE
      ” Maybe all religion carries the risk of errant revelation.”

      MY RESPONSE
      Absolutely!

      I think it’s important to remember that Mormonism grew indirectly out of the Pentecostalism of the Caine Ridge Revival (which was the fountainhead of 19th Century Restorationism – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cane_Ridge,_Kentucky ; and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_primitivism#Groups_arising_during_the_Second_Great_Awakening ) at the risk of sounding ridiculously self-promoting (too late Fred!) I wrote about this in my article, “Mormons: Pentecostals Gone Bad” ( http://www.concernedchristians.com/index.php?option=com_fireboard&Itemid=42&func=view&catid=10&id=&id=76819&catid=10 ).

      All that to say that as a Charismatic Presbyterian (which has one foot in 19th Century Restorationism and one foot in Reformed Theology – if you imagine such a thing!) I have heard some of the most bizarre nonsense come from Pentecostals and Charismatics claiming “revelation”. Of course for Biblical Christians anything that contradicts the Bible gets chucked out so most of it just drops to the concrete without doing any real harm (though there have been many noteworthy exceptions)

      However, since Joseph Smith divorced himself and his movement from any type of revelatory constraint those safeguards were removed and you get what you’ve observed first hand. Put another way:

      “In defense of God, Joseph Smith assailed the natural revelation of deism and the static revelation of traditional Christianity. To enable revealed religion to overcome natural religion, however, he supported the deistic attack upon the view that the present Bible is God’s complete and errorless revelation to mankind. Destruction of the traditional view left him free to preserve special revelation by his own means.”
      (Robert N. Hullinger, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon, Clayton Publishing House, 1980, p. 150)

      I hope that this helps and, again, I apologize if I came across as self-promoting – that wasn’t my intention.

  4. Anonymous Reply

    I agree with more Zilpha or Zilfa?

    She has a better voice than Larsen, and a more sultry sexy voice……hey can I meet her sometime soon?? 

  5. Anonymous Reply

    in my opinion Arthur Bishop should be the number one aka worst mormon crim on your list. It was lucky that the church excommunicated him early on for the embezzelment but he was still a recent RM and mormon who’s gone bad. Hoffman may be more famous but his 2 murders dont compare to the innocent children Bishop killed and the others he molested before

    • Buffalo Reply

      Agreed. Bishop’s crimes were the most horrific – certainly far, far worse than Mark Hoffman’s crimes

    • Kris Fielding Reply

      Absolutely. IMO, the Lafferty’s and Hoffman were ranked too high on the list. But, that’s the problem with making lists like this. It’s subjective by nature. Based on the crimes themselves Hoffman and the Lafferty’s are relatively run-of-the-mill, but the fact that they relate directly to the church make them worse from the church’s perspective.

  6. Mike Michaels Reply

    John touched on an essential element in LDS scripture relevant to Mormon criminals and criminality that has less presence in traditional Christianity:  The BoM opens with Nephi killing Laban because God told him so and it is presented as righteous.  While this might have been a dramatic manner in which to start an otherwise boring book in the early 1800’s, it is not the narrative that people tend to desire from religion in the 21st century – but Mormonism is stuck with it.  Certainly the OT has no lack of killing on behalf of God, but it is not the front and center story.  Absent the crucifixion of Jesus the NT is devoid of the narrative that God commands people to kill others.

    So Mormonism has a very real problem in this regard:  its central book of scripture opens with a story of justification of murder and the rest of the book is so bland that it doesn’t overcome that message or it reinforces that message with the continual battles between the Nephites and Lamanites.  The problem is that if God can justify murder he can justify any lesser sin as well.  And that’s where Mormonism fundamentally departs from traditional Protestantism (and perhaps Catholicism as well) where God must be a moral God.

    In Protestantism where the focus is on Jesus and the NT, God must conform to all the standards of morality that we hold or else He/She is not God.  This ties precisely to the recent Mormon Matters podcast on “Why Evangelicals View Mormons as Dangerous” – because the Mormon God is not bound by our standards of morality.  Mormonism reasserts the traits of God as being those traits which dominated the OT and not the NT story of Jesus.

    This narrative is precisely why Mormonism contained increasing violence in the 19th century when, like the rest of American society, it should have been decreasing.  We should not give Mormonism a free pass on 19th century violence under the mythic cloak of “the Wild West”.  There was a general absence of law and order and Missouri was a political powder keg, but in the geographical enclave of the Utah Territory the only rationale for white-on-white violence was, in Brigham’s words, that God willed it.

    There is indeed no greater threat to all the religions of the world than using God to justify evil actions.  The Top Ten really only identifies the outliers in Mormon society.  A more general discussion of Mormon scriptural themes which influence criminal behavior would have been more enlightening.

    How about a follow-up podcast on the Top Ten Mormon Fraud/Ponzi Scheme Leaders and discussion hinted at above?

  7. Mike Michaels Reply

    John touched on an essential element in LDS scripture relevant to Mormon criminals and criminality that has less presence in traditional Christianity:  The BoM opens with Nephi killing Laban because God told him so and it is presented as righteous.  While this might have been a dramatic manner in which to start an otherwise boring book in the early 1800’s, it is not the narrative that people tend to desire from religion in the 21st century – but Mormonism is stuck with it.  Certainly the OT has no lack of killing on behalf of God, but it is not the front and center story.  Absent the crucifixion of Jesus the NT is devoid of the narrative that God commands people to kill others.

    So Mormonism has a very real problem in this regard:  its central book of scripture opens with a story of justification of murder and the rest of the book is so bland that it doesn’t overcome that message or it reinforces that message with the continual battles between the Nephites and Lamanites.  The problem is that if God can justify murder he can justify any lesser sin as well.  And that’s where Mormonism fundamentally departs from traditional Protestantism (and perhaps Catholicism as well) where God must be a moral God.

    In Protestantism where the focus is on Jesus and the NT, God must conform to all the standards of morality that we hold or else He/She is not God.  This ties precisely to the recent Mormon Matters podcast on “Why Evangelicals View Mormons as Dangerous” – because the Mormon God is not bound by our standards of morality.  Mormonism reasserts the traits of God as being those traits which dominated the OT and not the NT story of Jesus.

    This narrative is precisely why Mormonism contained increasing violence in the 19th century when, like the rest of American society, it should have been decreasing.  We should not give Mormonism a free pass on 19th century violence under the mythic cloak of “the Wild West”.  There was a general absence of law and order and Missouri was a political powder keg, but in the geographical enclave of the Utah Territory the only rationale for white-on-white violence was, in Brigham’s words, that God willed it.

    There is indeed no greater threat to all the religions of the world than using God to justify evil actions.  The Top Ten really only identifies the outliers in Mormon society.  A more general discussion of Mormon scriptural themes which influence criminal behavior would have been more enlightening.

    How about a follow-up podcast on the Top Ten Mormon Fraud/Ponzi Scheme Leaders and discussion hinted at above?

    • Fred W. Anson Reply

      What an incredibly insightful post!  Thank you Mike – I wish I could give you a “Triple Dog Like” for it. 

      Do you, by any chance, have the link to that Mormon Matters podcast? I’d like to listen to it.

    • Anonymous Reply

      I’m sorry, but I have to politely object to this assessment.  Christians justify / explain away the immorality of God in the same way Mormons explain away the immorality of people like Brigham Young.

      The God of the Old Testament is a monster.  Ray Comfort and company justify that up one side and down the other.  But even when Christians claim that their theology identifies with the New Testament, the Christian God is still a monster. 

      Christians are
      always talking about how “holy” God is… how he reviles all sin… and
      how we deserve to burn in hell for even the slightest sin because we
      can’t be in God’s ultra-holy sight. Except, according to these
      Christians, God created everything. So that means he created sin and he
      created us to commit those sins.  In that scenario, God set up this system then absconded, leaving little substantive proof of his
      existence, only to burn us all in hell for eternity if we don’t follow
      along some very specific religious path that is hard to believe and not
      easily accessible to the whole world. I mean, how many people have died
      through the centuries never even hearing of Christ, let alone having
      the opportunity to accept him? Did not God create those people and send
      them to earth knowing they’d never have a chance to be saved? Doesn’t
      that mean he created them to torture them for eternity? Not only that,
      but in places where Christianity IS accessible, Christians believe that
      someone isn’t saved unless God works in their hearts. Doesn’t that mean
      that God is choosing not to save some people? That he’s sitting up on a
      throne, picking and choosing who he’s going to send to hell to burn
      forever? That God, in my mind, is a monster…. not someone worthy of
      praise and worship.

      I stuck with Mormonism for so long because it differed from Christian denominations on the nature and role of God.  I was taught that God is God because he understands the
      laws of nature and learned how to harness them for His purposes. It
      would mean God didn’t set up the horrific shell game I described above.
      It would mean that our nature exists because of the laws of the
      universe and that God’s work is to elevate us above those laws and to
      teach us how to harness them for ourselves.

      To me it seems that in
      strict Christian theology God created to be his eternal slaves, while
      the Mormon God (as I understood him) created us to set us free and give
      us the opportunity to be like him. This (modern) LDS model is one that I have
      always been able to reconcile with the qualities used to describe God:
      loving, merciful, just, holy, etc. I can agree with you that God as he was conceived of by the early church is very similar to the vengeful murderous God of the Old Testament.  But modern Mormonism has moved away from that just as Christians have moved away from the Old Testament.  But on the issue of eternal salvation, Mormons don’t believe in a God who would send unbelievers to a firey hell.  That is the domain of Christianity.  Due to that, I just don’t see how the Christian God can be classified as any more moral than the Mormon God.

      • Mike Michaels Reply

        Please undertand that in my initial statement and this response that I was/am not responding as a believing Christian for I am not.  I am merely trying to explain the difference in mindset that I held as a believing Christian before I converted to Mormonism (subsequently followed by 20 years of active participation).
         
        “Christians justify / explain away the immorality of God in the same way Mormons explain away the immorality of people like Brigham Young.”  This is a very broad statement and it is difficult for me to put into context without a specific example.  Please provide one.
         
        “The God of the Old Testament is a monster. Ray Comfort and company justify that up one side and down the other. But even when Christians claim that their theology identifies with the New Testament, the Christian God is still a monster. ”  I am not familiar with Ray Comfort or whatever his position is.  I can tell you that the spectrum of theology in Christianity is very wide and one can find almost any position imaginable.  This is unlike Mormonism where the Church defines a single theology (at least at any one point in time).  Be careful ascribing any one evangelists theology to Christianity over another.  There is no central authority.  Identifying core beliefs across swaths of Christianity is difficult and full of nuance.  In some cases Catholicism can be a good reference point.
         
        “Christians are always talking about how “holy” God is and how he reviles all sin and how we deserve to burn in hell for even the slightest sin because we can’t be in God’s ultra-holy sight. Except, according to these Christians, God created everything. So that means he created sin and he created us to commit those sins. In that scenario, God set up this system then absconded, leaving little substantive proof of his existence, only to burn us all in hell for eternity if we don’t follow along some very specific religious path that is hard to believe and not easily accessible to the whole world. I mean, how many people have died through the centuries never even hearing of Christ, let alone having the opportunity to accept him? Did not God create those people and send them to earth knowing they’d never have a chance to be saved? Doesn’t that mean he created them to torture them for eternity? Not only that, but in places where Christianity IS accessible, Christians believe that someone isn’t saved unless God works in their hearts. Doesn’t that mean that God is choosing not to save some people? That he’s sitting up on a throne, picking and choosing who he’s going to send to hell to burn forever? That God, in my mind, is a monster, not someone worthy of praise and worship.”  And how is this different than the God of Mormonism?  Does giving some miniscule portion of humanity that lives almost exclusively in Utah change any of what you said?  I think not.  You would also do well not to interpret Christian beliefs such as “burn in hell” literally.   Almost no one does these days (similarly neither do most Mormons believe today that God lives on Kolob).  Sure, it’s a dramatic statement delivered over the pulpit in a revival, but it isn’t literal.  I think it is fair to say that only the most fundamentalist of Christians believe that anyone is literally going to “burn in hell”.
         
        “I stuck with Mormonism for so long because it differed from Christian denominations on the nature and role of God. I was taught that God is God because he understands the laws of nature and learned how to harness them for His purposes. It would mean God didn’t set up the horrific shell game I described above. It would mean that our nature exists because of the laws of the universe and that God’s work is to elevate us above those laws and to teach us how to harness them for ourselves.”  And most Christians I know would say precisely the same thing. 
         
        “To me it seems that in strict Christian theology God created to be his eternal slaves, while the Mormon God (as I understood him) created us to set us free and give us the opportunity to be like him. This (modern) LDS model is one that I have always been able to reconcile with the qualities used to describe God: loving, merciful, just, holy, etc.”  And the Mormon God didn’t make you a slave?  List all the things one has to do as a practicing Mormon and it sounds (and was) like slavery to me.  Christians too are free every bit as much and I would submit more than Mormons.  That’s the difference between the Mormon belief system that is essentially salvation by works (being a slave to your own salvation) versus the Protestant belief system of salvation by grace (there is nothing you can do to earn salvation).
         
        Overall I interpret your responses as being heavily biased toward a Mormon belief system and lacking in practical understanding of Christian belief and practice.  Pay no attention to wacko evangelical Christians on television and radio for they no more represent mainline Christianity than Fundamentalist Mormons represent mainline Mormonism.  Go listen to United Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and even Baptist pastors in your community – those who are educated in respectable seminaries and universities around the country.  Pay attention to how much they focus on Jesus, grace, and the loving nature of God.  If you do that you’ll understand where I’m coming from.  Understanding any faith takes more than being an audience of the loudest local sect.  It took me more than ten years of participation to truly understand how the Mormonism practiced inside the Church is different than the PR Mormonism that is taught to investigators and outsiders.  In some sense the same is true of Christianity.  There are a lot of voices out there attempting to speak on behalf of Christianity – and it takes awhile to understand which ones are the fringe and which ones are the core.

        • Hermes Reply

          In defense of Mormonism, we should point out that Christianity has a longer history of violence, and has been used as justification for more killing (in terms of people dead).  As late as the last century, the Spanish Civil War was a religious crusade for certain Catholics (not to mention the Marxist fervor on the other side).  As I see it, the real problem is not so much ideological (i.e. a matter of the adjective one chooses to describe one’s religious affiliation) as human.  Why are we all so violent, no matter what our creed?  What can we do to control our violence?  Myths about peacemakers human and divine can help (and have over the centuries), but they fall obviously short (when significant numbers of people professing them end up using that profession to justify violence).  

          Rejecting Mormonism as a violent ideology seems over the top to me, akin to declaring that I am no longer American because I cannot approve all of the wars in which we have fought.  In both cases, ideology is just the accidental messenger of an innate violence deeply rooted in the human psyche.  If we want to touch the root of the problem of human violence, we need to look past the messenger (all the -isms with their justifications for war masked as protestations of peace) and confront the hungry beast in every one of us that keeps sending him out there.

          • Fred W. Anson

            Well, I’ve been waiting for Mike Michaels to respond this one as well. I’ve waited long enough. 

            YOU WROTE
            “In defense of Mormonism, we should point out that Christianity has a longer history of violence, and has been used as justification for more killing (in terms of people dead).”

            MY REPONSE
            Fallacious since Christianity has a history of approximately 2,000-years and Mormonism a history of approximately 180-years.  Do mean to tell us that violence by Christianity it’s first 180-years was equivalent in quantity or “quality” to what we’ve seen in Mormonism?  If you know your Christian Church History then you know that is NOT the case.

            Clearly there’s a difference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Christianity

            YOU WROTE
            “As late as the last century, the Spanish Civil War was a religious crusade for certain Catholics (not to mention the Marxist fervor on the other side).  As I see it, the real problem is not so much ideological (i.e. a matter of the adjective one chooses to describe one’s religious affiliation) as human.  Why are we all so violent, no matter what our creed? What can we do to control our violence? Myths about peacemakers human and divine can help (and have over the centuries), but they fall obviously short (when significant numbers of people professing them end up using that profession to justify violence). ”

            MY RESPONSE
            Really? Do you mean to tell us that Quakers, Mennonites, and other Christian groups whose idealogy, creed, and theology includes pacifism doesn’t result in different behavior than the Catholics that you referenced? 

            I think that one’s group ideology and creed can and does indeed make a difference! 
             
            YOU WROTE
            Rejecting Mormonism as a violent ideology seems over the top to me, akin to declaring that I am no longer American because I cannot approve all of the wars in which we have fought.  In both cases, ideology is just the accidental messenger of an innate violence deeply rooted in the human psyche.  If we want to touch the root of the problem of human violence, we need to look past the messenger (all the -isms with their justifications for war masked as protestations of peace) and confront the hungry beast in every one of us that keeps sending him out there.

            MY RESPONSE
            There is indeed violence in every people that’s a given. However, it’s always a matter of degree and proportion. Clearly the degree and quantity of violence in Mormon History is, all things being equal, disportionally higher relative to the mean – as noted in the podcast. As noted in “Under the Banner of History”. As noted by Mormon History in doctrines like Blood Atonement. As noted in my own post regarding this podcast that quotes from a knowledgeable expert acknowledging this fact.

            However, in the end The Apostle James answered your question:

            James 4
            1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

             4 You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. 5 What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? 6 But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say,

               “God opposes the proud
                  but favors the humble.”

             7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. 

            Or, put another way, as Francis Schaeffer once said: 
            “[t]he climax of the Ten Commandments is the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17… [t]he commandment not to covet is an entirely inward thing. Coveting is never an outward thing, from the very nature of the case. It is an intriguing factor that this is the last command that God gives us in the Ten Commandments and thus the hub of the whole matter… [W]e break this last commandment…before we break any of the others. Any time that we break one of the other commandments of God, it means that we have already broken this commandment in coveting.”
            (Francis Schaeffer, “True Spirituality”, chapter 1)

          • Hermes

            Thanks for the response, Fred.  I don’t think that Christianity (or any ideology) has a moral valence.  Ideology is value-neutral until somebody starts putting it into practice.  Mormonism as practiced by people like my dad is good stuff.  Christianity as practiced by Quakers, some Orthodox, and some Catholic monks is good stuff.  Buddhism as practiced by Nhat Hanh is good stuff.  I agree!  For me the lie is that professing some kind of ideology makes one automatically morally superior.  What we purport to believe is much less important than how we believe it.  (Do we attempt to force our beliefs on others by force, as many Christians, Mormons, and even some Buddhists have done throughout history?  If we do, then all those words about being nice that every faith tradition has are revealed to be so much hot air coming from our mouth, irrespective of anything else we may say.)

            It is easy to malign Mormonism as evil because the concrete instance of that most people know is the corporation run by the brethren in Salt Lake.  Yes, that corporation lies about its history.  Yes, that corporation has a history of doing worse than lying to preserve a clean image (a whitewashed sepulcre, as Jesus says).  But that corporation is not the only instance of Mormonism.  For those like me who grew up in a perfectly functional family of Mormons (we had our problems, sure but they were normal issues, not Dad being a serial killer), it is patently ridiculous when people tell us we are more likely to go criminally ballistic than our Christian fundie neighbors (who like us are often good people, even though they share some beliefs with wackos like Fred Phelps and have a history that in my region includes the Klu Klux Klan, a functional equivalent of the Mormon Danites).  Preach Christian charity at me all day.  I have no problem with that until I meet some real “Christians” whose idea of carrying it out is as dysfunctional as anything any Mormon (live or dead, since we don’t really have any ancients) has ever done.  The same goes for Islam, the religion of peace.  I have no problem with it until the peace of Allah turns into a group of the faithful blowing up my city block.  If you read Mormon, Islamic, and Christian scripture, you find all kinds of nice things: instructions to be good to one another, to renounce war, to cultivate friendship with the other.  It sounds great, and you can even find some groups in history who came kind of close to turning it into reality (like my dad in our family).  But inevitably the people making the biggest splash are those who get it dramatically wrong.  Somehow, they are always beating the plowshare of the gospel into a sword pointed at anyone who will not submit to them.  I think this is a human problem first, and an ideological problem second.  The ideologies don’t create it: they just give it a place to flourish.  I agree with you that certain groups with certain flavors of ideology have a better history than others when it comes to aiding and abetting this dark aspect of the human psyche.  That is part of the reason I now practice Buddhism instead of Christianity (though I still call myself a Mormon and participate some in my local congregation).  Stepping outside the ideology I had and trying out something radically different has been very helpful to me.  (I will probably keep doing it, too.  I could certainly see myself worshipping with Quakers at some point.)  My experience tells me that there is nothing inherently superior about ideologies per se.  People are the problem.  Groups of people get together and use their ideology (whatever that happens to be) to create a society that mirrors what is important to them.  Then they spout off a bunch of dogma trying to make that society intelligible to others.  But the reality remains hidden in how they live, together as a community and separately as individuals.  I think there are Mormon, Christian, and Muslim communities that function well, as I know there are individuals in each religion who function at what seems to me like the highest realm of ethical development accessible to human nature.  What makes this kind of religious success is not the doctrine (which is arbitrary), but the practice (i.e. the behavior of individuals alone and together in community).

            If we want to see what makes people really good, we need to move past scripture (in any tradition) and look at objective reality (by which I mean history, cross-cultural comparisons, and a healthy dose of personal experience).  We need to see past our ideologies into the common human psyche that animates them (causing some of them to “malfunction” at crucial moments and turn peace into an excuse for unnecessary war).  No matter what words we use to talk about what some of us call God, we need to learn how to craft our relationship with it such that we don’t aid and abet criminal behavior.  As far as I can tell, de-programming and then re-programming one’s personal ideology is an intensely private affair: it works best with minimal outside input.  Instead of attacking people with slurs that they recognize on some level as nonsense (“Your religion is just an excuse for criminal behavior!”), you need to give them room to create something good of their own volition.  We all need to learn how to recognize the good that can be cultivated in Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam (as well as all other human belief systems of record).  Good faith is like language: it exists in diverse places, in diverse ways, without one form of it being qualitatively superior to another.  Do you speak English or Spanish or Chinese?  (Or maybe all of them?)  Each is good, in its own way.  Each does something better than the others.  Each has a place in our world.  Do you worship as a Mormon, a Christian, or a Muslim?  (Why not all?  When I visit my grandparents in Tennessee, I go to their Protestant church.  I attend Mormon services with my family in Utah, and I have participated in Muslim worship and have several close friends who are Muslim.)  Each religion is good, in its own way.  Each does something better than the others (or at least something good that the others cannot do because of historical and logistical barriers, i.e. circumstances beyond our control).  Instead of wasting time taking pot shots at other people’s religion as a criminal enterprise (which it certainly has been, historically speaking), we should worry more about cultivating the best in all religions, i.e. the best in humanity (which is actually not dependent on what particular creed one happens to use, but the manner in which one uses it).  

          • Fred W. Anson

            Thank you for clarifying.  

            And on this we agree 100%: 
             “For me the lie is that professing some kind of ideology makes one automatically morally superior.”

            To which I would only add: “Well said”

        • Anonymous Reply

          Overall I interpret your responses as being
          heavily biased toward a Mormon belief system and lacking in practical
          understanding of Christian belief and practice.

           

          I’m not faithful LDS. 
          I don’t have a heavy bias toward Mormonism – I think it’s a bunch of
          bunk.  Nor do I lack a practical understanding
          of Christian belief and practice.  I just
          vehemently disagree with people who claim that Christianity has some sort of a
          moral / theological leg up on Mormonism. 

           

          My understanding of Christian belief and practice comes from
          3 places.  1) The father of one of my
          good friends from college is a pastor. 
          He received a PhD in divinity from Notre Dame.  While my friend was growing up her father was
          a Lutheran pastor.  When he retired he
          changed denominations (I don’t know why) and he is now a part time pastor for a
          Presbyterian church.  I had numerous
          conversations with this man about Christian belief and how it differs from
          Mormonism.  He’s the one who convinced me
          that Christians are RIGHT when they take offense to Mormons saying they are
          Christians.  He taught me the basics of
          Christian belief.  I “get” the concept of
          grace and how one is saved solely through grace, which is a gift and not
          something one must work to obtain.  2)
          Through admittedly conservative Christian talk radio.  I understand that most of those people are
          fringe extreme nutjobs.  That is what
          makes them entertaining.  But that doesn’t
          mean they don’t also represent a good chunk of Christian belief in the US.  Are not Evangelical Christians the largest
          Republican minority voting bloc in the US? 
          That’s far from some small group of wing-nuts whose voices can be
          ignored.  3) I have religious
          conversations with several Christian friends. 
          I routinely debate Evangelical Christianity with a Bible Baptist.  Other of my friends are Lutherans,
          Episcopalians, and Methodists.  Aside from
          my Bible Baptist buddy, my other friends are what you would consider mainstream
          / non-fundamentalist Christians. 

           

          (Christians dismiss the morality of the OT God) This
          is a very broad statement and it is difficult for me to put into context
          without a specific example.  Please provide one.

           

          How about 3? 

           

          I’ve asked my friends to explain why it was OK in God’s eyes
          for Abraham to have a sex slave who he then banishes into the desert
          (Hagar).  Would it not just be easier to
          just make Sarah fertile?  Their response
          (in general): It was the “culture” or “practice” of the time.  (Apparently an “omniscient” God can’t control
          the morality of his prophets… or at least find a prophet who can see the
          immorality of slavery / concubines.)

           

          I’ve asked my friends to explain why it was OK for God to kill
          all the first born children of the Egyptians. 
          Their response was that God had to get the Jews out of Isreal.  One of them said to me: “I don’t know why God
          picked those plagues.  But he’s God.  It’s his choice.”  (Apparently an “omniscient” God can’t just
          deal with Pharaoh directly.  You know,
          strike him dumb… give him a vision…. soften his heart… instead innocent
          children and adults who had no power in their government had to die to get the point
          across.)

           

          I’ve asked my friends to explain why it was OK to commit or
          command genocide (the extermination of the Canaanites for one)  My friends don’t have an answer for this
          one.  I’ve either been chided for
          speaking blasphemously or been told, “We belong to God.  He can do what he wants with us.”  (Apparently an “omniscient” God can’t just
          keep Isreal empty until the chosen people get there.)

           

          So there you go.  Three
          examples of Christians justifying / explaining away the “morality” of God.  I could provide you with several more if
          those are insufficient.

             (Mormons don’t believe nonbelievers will burn in hell,
          etc.) And how is this different than the God of Mormonism?  Does giving
          some miniscule portion of humanity that lives almost exclusively in Utah change
          any of what you said?  I think not.  You would also do well not to
          interpret Christian beliefs such as “burn in hell”
          literally.   Almost no one does these days (similarly neither do most
          Mormons believe today that God lives on Kolob).  Sure, it’s a dramatic
          statement delivered over the pulpit in a revival, but it isn’t literal.  I
          think it is fair to say that only the most fundamentalist of Christians believe
          that anyone is literally going to “burn in hell”.

           

          According to Mormon theology almost everyone goes to heaven…
          not just some miniscule population that lives exclusively in Utah.  And yes, I get where you came up with that
          response… because despite what you’ve assumed, I wasn’t using “burn in hell”
          literally.  I understand that Christians
          believe that hell is existing for eternity in the absence of God and therefore
          ending up anywhere but the Celestial kingdom would be considered going to hell
          in their eyes.  But if you expect me to
          examine Christian theology through their viewpoint, then you have to examine
          Mormon theology through the Mormon viewpoint. 
          Mormon theology does NOT teach that non-Mormons “burn in hell.”

           

          Is not the basic tenant of Christianity that all men are
          saved through the grace of Christ’s atonement? 
          Every Christian I’ve ever discussed theology with has stood by John 14:6.  I’ll grant you that there is variation in how
          that scripture is interpreted.  My Evangelical
          friend would say that one must be “born again” and “know the name of Christ.”  My more “liberal” Christian friends would say
          that salvation is open to those who never hear Christ’s message as long as they
          understand that they are in need of salvation. 
          None of that dismisses what I said. 
          It’s still a really terribly cruel shell game.  It doesn’t matter if one believes in a
          literal fiery hell or just a sad eternity of separation from one’s creator.  It’s still the same premise.  God created this existence, created the sin
          in it, designed us to commit those sins, then set up a system by which people
          can only be saved via one specific method, and then absconded, making that
          specific method hard to find / even harder to believe. 

           

          Might I again point out, I don’t have the Mormon church’s “back.”  I think both systems are equally reprehensible.

           
           And most Christians I know would say precisely the same thing. 

           

          I was referring to the Mormon idea that we become gods with
          something to do in eternity.  That’s not
          what Christians believe last I checked.
           
            And the Mormon God didn’t make you a slave?  List all the
          things one has to do as a practicing Mormon and it sounds (and was) like
          slavery to me.  Christians too are free every bit as much and I would
          submit more than Mormons.  That’s the difference between the Mormon belief
          system that is essentially salvation by works (being a slave to your own
          salvation) versus the Protestant belief system of salvation by grace (there is
          nothing you can do to earn salvation).

           

          Again, I was talking about what happens in eternity.  Of course the Mormon system of works
          salvation is overwhelming.  I wasn’t
          debating that aspect.  I was speaking to
          the purpose of salvation.  In Mormon theology
          we’re saved so we can become Gods and have a purposeful eternity.  In Christian theology we are saved so we can
          stroke God’s ego for eternity*.

           

          *hyperbole to make a point

          • Anonymous

            correction: My friend’s father is now a member of the Episcopalian clergy.

          • Fred W. Anson

            Heather, I thought that you made some very points.  I’ve been holding off waiting for Mike Michael to respond as, far all, this is his thread.

            However, I did want to address something you asserted that’s not supported by the Biblical narrative. Specifically, you wrote: 

            “I’ve asked my friends to explain why it was OK in God’s eyes for Abraham to have a sex slave who he then banishes into the desert (Hagar).  Would it not just be easier to just make Sarah fertile?  Their response (in general): It was the culture” or “practice” of the time.  (Apparently an “omniscient” God can’t control the morality of his prophets… or at least find a prophet who can see the immorality of slavery / concubines.)” 

            Let’s look at what the Bible actually says: 
            Genesis 16 (NLT)  1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. 3 So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.)

             4 So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!”
             6 Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away.
             7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. 8 The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
               “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied.
             9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.”10 Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”
             11 And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. 12This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”
             13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.
             15 So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born.
            And God did indeed make Sarai fertile – but in HIS timing not Abraham’s and Sarai’s: Genesis 211 The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. 2 She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. 3 And Abraham named their son Isaac. 4 Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded. 5 Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. 6 And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. 7 Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!” 8 When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham 
            prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. 9 But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. 10 So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” 11 This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. 12 But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. 13 But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” 14 So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba. 15 When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. 16 Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. “I don’t want to watch the boy die,” she said, as she burst into tears. 17 But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.” 19 Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer,21 and he settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt.
            So to assert that God “approved” of what Sarai suggested and what Abraham did is in error.  In fact, the narrative suggests the exact opposite since no where in the narrative is what transpired as God’s idea or in any way garnering God’s favor. True, God redeemed the “fall out” from Abraham and Sarai’s sinful behavior by caring for and blessing Hagar and Ishmael but that was it. And THAT is an example of YaHWeH Elohim’s grace and mercy nothing more.  It was in fact, evidence of Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith, lack of obedience, and choice to do things their way rather than God’s way. The result, was a sick, dysfunctional mess that continues today with the endless conflict, heartache, and even violence between the Sons of Isaac (Israel) and the Sons of Ishmael (the surrounding Arab nations). I know of no one in mainstream, Biblical Christianity that views the behavior of Abraham and Sarai as anything but sinful disobedience to God’s will. That’s why in Christian Culture when someone makes the decision to take matters into their own hands and do things them self their way rather than God’s way it’s called, “Having an Ishmael”. Why your Christian friends didn’t communicate this to you baffles me!  Based on your description of the Christians you’ve been talking that you seem to think are “Biblical” I’m tempted to say more but that would be presumptive of me so I’ve restrain myself. I hope this helps! Thank you for listening. 

          • Anonymous

            Why your Christian friends didn’t communicate this to you baffles me!

            Unfortunately, in an attempt to avoid posting something of tl;dr length, I didn’t give my friends’ responses fair representation.  I should have realized further explanation would be necessary.  This is not a reflection of their “Biblical literacy” but a reflection of my haste.  To clarify:

            By saying it was the culture or practice of the time, I meant that God didn’t tell Abraham to do it…. that it wasn’t sanctioned by God… it was something Sarah and Abraham chose to do because they wanted an heir.  My Evangelical friend claimed, like you, that they were disobeying God or sinning by introducing Hagar as a concubine.  Personally, I don’t buy it.  God still chose to bless Abraham with posterity numbering the stars of the heavens.  Honestly, I’m not even interested in debating this issue.  Regardless of whether we agree on why God still chose to “work with” Abraham, even though he was hunky-dory with slavery and concubines, this is STILL an example of Christians justifying behavior by God that many unbelievers, including myself, find repugnant.

            I’m also uninterested in debating the murder of the Egyptian firstborns or the extermination of the Canaanites.  But to do right by my friends (as my lacking explanations in the previous post has apparently given you the opportunity to so cleverly impugn them while still coming across as gracious) I will explain further their positions on these issues.  In regards to God murdering the “firstborn” of the Egyptians, my friends did claim that those people would have been protected if they had also painted their doorposts with blood – so it was basically their fault due to their unbelief.  They also explained that softening Pharaoh’s heart required God showing his “might.”  Our discussion turned to why God demonstrated his might the way he did and that is where the discussion came to God picking whatever plagues he wants to pick.  As for the extermination of the Canaanites, there was plenty of discussion about their sinfulness and unwillingness to repent.  There was also plenty of semantics discussions about whether or not military procedure of the time would have meant running off all but the “army” before slaughtering those who remain.  A detailed account of my response to all of that is basically unimportant because, again, whether or not we agree, this is STILL an example of Christians explaining away God’s lack of morality.  (Though, I would like to point out that if Christians can claim that the Bible isn’t literal in that aspect, then others are free to question the factual veracity of anything else in the Bible.)

            As I said, I’m completely uninterested in debating these points with you.  So if you still find my explanations inadequate, then by all means just believe that, since you’re getting this information secondhand, I’m obviously just too stupid to understand what they are really talking about, rather than calling into question the religious education of my friends.

            [Y]our definition of Abraham as a “prophet” would seem to betray the type of Mormon residue/bias that Mike was referring to and, candidly, I see too.

            I re-read my post very carefully and I did not define prophet at all.  You read into my use of that word what YOU expected me to believe based upon your opinion of me and my former religion.  I am completely aware of the different usage of the word “prophet” in Christianity and Mormonism.  

            No where in the Bible is Abraham called a “prophet”.

            Genesis 20:6-7 (KJV)
            Genesis 20:6 (NIV / NLT)

            [T]o “control the morality” of ANYONE is a violation of their free agency…… God never violations anyone’s free will – period.

            Again, in my attempt to be brief, I chose my words poorly.  By saying “control the morality” I did not mean God should have actually eliminated Abraham’s free agency.  What I should have said was that God has had PLENTY of opportunities to make statements and take stands on issues I (and many others) find morally reprehensible.  Is there some reason God couldn’t have had a burning bush moment with Abraham where he explained why slavery and polygamy are not acceptable?  God couldn’t have said, “Hey buddy, I want to give you this really amazing blessing and make you this amazingly important person.  But before I can do that, you’ve gotta get straight on a few issues”???

            This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that Christians explain away the immorality of God.  They are perfectly willing to accept that God had a hand in some horrific behavior.  They never step back and say, “Yeah, why DIDN’T God put ‘thou shall not own another human as a slave’ in the ten commandments!”  They never say, “Yes.  I understand murdering innocent children doesn’t make God look very moral.”  

            This entire debate is a perfect example of why I decided, LONG before abandoning my former beliefs, that if Mormonism fell apart for me my only other option was atheism.  Religion is just too much of a logic free cluster.  For me it comes down to this: “What is more likely… that the Bible is a bunch of stories written by a group of tribalistic people who used them to exert control and assume authority in their societies… or that God is really this inept and amoral?”

            God isn’t interested in slave, unthinking robots, zombies, or any other type of dominated, enslaved, non self-autonomous praise, worshipping, and adoring serfs.

            Yes, I’m perfectly aware of this.  God only wants those who would be happy living under his thumb for eternity.  All others need not apply and will be sent to hell (whatever version floats your particular version of Christianity’s boat).  To be completely honest, I’ve NEVER been able to wrap my head around this.  I could NEVER be happy living in eternity with a God who had banished people who I knew to be good, decent people to hell… ESPECIALLY considering what he’s done to people through the history of mankind.  He’s going to “roast” my atheist family and friends for eternity for favoring logic and science over dogmatic belief when he’s murdered millions upon millions of people?????  How could living in heaven knowing that eternal existence befell my loved ones (and even those I don’t know) and still be happy by ANY stretch of the imagination?  The idea disgusts me.  It’s like people pandering to a despot out of gratitude for not being tortured and killed while everyone around them is annihilated (might I point you to Christopher Hitchen’s statements likening God to Kim Jong Il).   I’ve been told that I’ll be sorry for taking that stance when the dreadful day of judgment finally arrives.  Who knows, maybe their right.  But if they are right… then all I have to say is that I’m glad I was given the opportunity to make the decision rationally, as a thinking person, rather than out of fear for what kind of punishment I’d have to endure for not kowtowing to despotism.

            I’m sorry if that last paragraph offends you.  I am not attacking your choice to believe.  I’m simply giving you an honest account of my beliefs.

          • Fred W. Anson

            Thank you for clarifying and thank you for enlightening me on the Genesis 20:7 passage, I was obviously unaware of the word usage there and stand corrected. 

            And no, I’m not offended at all by your stance – it’s yours to have just as mine is mine to have. It’s all good.  

            I can see that your mind is made up so I’ll leave you in peace – especially now that I see Mike Michaels has picked up the thread again.

          • Mike Michaels

            Mormonism would have some theological weight to contend against traditional Christianity if JS had not made it up as he went along.  I agree the Mormonism has some laudable theological elements, however JS was constantly changing his theology.  Throw out all the wacky theology that JS, BY, and their peers ventured into, allow the modern LDS church to distill it into the current canon of theology, and the result is respectable.  However, a whole lot of garbage went into the trash along the way – garbage that was said by supposed prophets who are highly revered within the Church.  I don’t know how anyone grants Mormonism theological credibility if they have a knowledge of what has been thrown out the window.  I’ll admit though that likely the same occurred in Christianity but it was so long ago that few bother to dredge up that ancient history.

            As far as morality, I think it is very difficult for Mormonism to claim moral equivalence or superiority with the millstone of polygamy hanging about its neck.  It’s not that Christianity doesn’t have its own dirty laundry – it does.  Again, it’s just so very long ago.  Comparing contemporaries of 1800 and onward, though, the manner in which JS started and advanced polygamy, the institutionalized lying that it created, and the impoverishment and abandonment of women left in its wake is condemning.  Perhaps you might blame Christianity for the persecution of this practice and thereby counter that Christianity was in the moral wrong.  If this were the case the Church would be itching for re-instatement of polygamy – but it isn’t.  The Church is scared to death of gay marriage and anything that might open the door for society to reconsider plural marriage.  That’s a clear sign that, history to the contrary, the Church was doctrinally and morally wrong on polygamy.

            It sounds like you have reasonable sources for your information about Christianity, but why the focus on the God of the OT?  That’s not where you will find modern day Christians spending their time.  Admittedly they have to explain it with a narrative that minimizes their cognitive dissonance, but that does not mean it is the driving focus of their lives.  They focus on the NT and Jesus.  In contrast, Mormonism places heavy emphasis on the characteristics of God of the OT, Jesus in the BoM, and then even heavier weighting on JS and the justification for the restored church.  

            Salvation is a throw-away term in Mormonism.  Mormons are perfectly willing to grant everyone access to heaven as long as they reserve exaltation for themselves.  That is contradictory to the Nicene Creed of 381 stating Christian acceptance of “one holy catholic” church which drives equanimity among the mainline faiths to this day.   In contrast, the “One True Church” mantra creates a superiority complex among Mormons that is itself a moral downfall. 

            I don’t find that celestial sex for eternity any more purposeful than singing praise to God.  In the former Mormons stroke their own ego and the latter they stroke God’s ego.  And since Mormons believe they become Gods (or perhaps they don’t teach that anymore according to GBH – theology that is firm as green jello with carrots nailed to a wall) they are still stroking the ego of God – it just so happens that they themselves are God.

            Mormon theology makes absolutely no sense to me, logically or morally.  It is belief in whatever is convenient today as defined by fifteen businessmen who have absolutely zero training in theology and their faith’s theological history.  Any mainline church would be ashamed to elevate men of such learning to the highest level of spiritual and doctrinal leadership.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t disagree with you, Mike.  Like I said, I don’t have the church’s back.  I just don’t think Christianity is any better.  To me it doesn’t matter if it’s 2000 years ago or 180.  It’s still there.

            Why focus on the OT God when modern Christians focus on NT God?  Well, why focus on polygamy when modern Mormons don’t?  (OK, that was just a snarky poke — I don’t actually want to debate that issue because I think Mormons still do focus on polygamy, even if they don’t say so publicly.  I’m with you on the whole scared of gay marriage and re-legalization of polygamy bit.  haha.)

    • Fred W. Anson Reply

      And for those interested, here’s the link to the Mormon Matters podcast mentioned in the above post: http://mormonmatters.org/2011/06/14/37-why-are-mormons-seen-as-dangerous-by-some-evangelical-christians/ 

  8. Bob Smith Reply

    After reading books, listening to a number of interviews of people involved in the case, and numerous message board postings, I still have yet to hear a logical rationale for Mark Hofmann’s bombings.  In other words, does anyone have a cogent reason why he may have thought that setting off bombs would get him out of the jam he was in?  I feel like I’m missing some critical link, because I know about the squeeze on his finances, the pressure to produce documents he didn’t have, and so on, but I just don’t see how he could have thought that blowing people up would fix things.

    • Randy Snyder Reply

      My impression was he was targeting people he felt were on to him. He used a very dangerous bomb trigger (mercury moved by gravity when box tilts) and that’s why the wife of one of his targets got killed when she picked up the package addressed to her husband and why it went off in his car accidentally.

    • Sam Reply

      I thought it was an effort to buy himself more time… by creating the impression that the collecting community was being targeted – which would give him an excuse to disappear from the scene for while as he “laid low.”

    • Troy Reply

      It’s my understanding that Hoffman suspected that Steve Christensen was onto him, so the first bomb was intended for — and did kill — Christensen.  The second bomb that killed Kathy Sheets was intended to throw the police off Hoffman’s trail for the Christensen murder.  Sheets’ husband, Gary, was involved in a business with Christensen that was experiencing severe financial distress, and Hoffman wanted the bombings to appear as if they were carried out by a distruntled investor in the Christensen/Sheets business. 

      We’ll probably never know the story behind the third bomb because Hoffman refuses to talk.  Some speculate the bomb was intended for Hugh W. Pinnock (the GA acting as the Church’s liason (through Steve Christensen) for the Hoffman documents).  Others believe Hoffman purposely bombed himself so that he would not be considered a suspect in the murders.

      The case is pretty convoluted, but if you’re interested in reading more about it, the best book out there is “Salamander,” published by Signature Books

      • Bob Smith Reply

        Thanks, Troy.  I have read “Salamander” but didn’t recall that Christensen may have suspected Hofmann.  That would make more sense.

  9. Buffalo Reply

    I liked the comparison of Brigham Young to a crime boss. I guess Porter Rockwell and Will Bill were the “goodfellas”

  10. Joe Geisner Reply

    A very entertaining subject, thanks for doing the podcast.

    So much could be said about each of these individuals, that
    they each could take an hour. Their crimes are heinous and we should all be
    appalled. Orrin Porter Rockwell was a cold blooded murderer, who often shot
    his victims unarmed and/or in the back. He was no better than murderers like Charlie
    Manson or John Wayne Gacey. William Hickman was called the human hyena for good
    reason. While Richard Yates was his prisoner during the “Utah War”, Hickman had
    him in shackles as Yates lay in bed a sleep, Hickman took an ax and split his
    head in half. All of this was done with two members of the First Presidency placing
    Yates under Hickman’s “care” and Young’s only concern after the fact was making
    sure Hickman had given him all Yates‘ money that Hickman had found on the dead man’s
    body. To learn more about Hickman I would suggest reading Bigler and Bagley’s new
    book “Mormon Rebellion.”

    I think John Larsen did a great job pointing out what a
    cruel and despicable person John D. Lee was during MMM. Will Bagley in “Blood
    of the Prophets” provides a window into the man’s psyche with the following
    paragraph which is an account of Lee raping his wives in 1845. Young’s part in this
    horrendous act should not go unnoticed.

    In
    late 1845 Lee was engaged to marry the gentle and beautiful Louisa Free and her
    sister, Emmeline. “One day Brigham Young saw Emeline [sic] and fell in love with her,” Lee recalled. He promised that if
    Lee would surrender the girl, he would uphold Lee “in time and in eternity
    & he never should fall” and he would sit at his right hand in Young’s
    kingdom. The request tormented Lee, for he loved Emmeline dearly, but he agreed
    to resign his claim in Young’s favor. Emmeline became one of Brigham Young’s
    favorite wives and bore him ten children, but the bargain ignited an odd
    reaction in the explosive Lee. He later boasted to George Grant “he had frigged
    Louisa Free 20 times in one night.” Grant did not believe him, but Lee “called
    God and Angels to witness that he told the truth.” Grant told Lee he “was a
    bigger fool than I thought he was if he would allow his arse to run away with
    his head.” Undeterred, Lee claimed “he went home from here after frigging so
    often and frigged all the women he had in his house.”
     

      • Joe Geisner Reply

        The quote comes from Bagley’s “Blood of the Prophets,” not Bigler
        and Bagley’s “Mormon Rebellion.” The Grant source is Seventy Minutes housed in
        the CHL. Both Grant and Lee were Seventies.

        I also want to comment on John talking about Utah being the Wild
        West. I used to think the same thing, but David Bigler helped me understand
        that this is incorrect. David likes to say that “Cedar City was no Dodge City.”
        It is interesting to note that apologists who are critical of Bagley’s “Blood of
        the Prophets” admit that Cedar City was a law abiding town when they compare it Pioche
        Nevada. The difference between these areas in terms of violence is how it
        flows. (Mike Quinn points this out in Origins of Power) In Utah violence was top down, while in the rest of the U.S. violence
        was pretty much a bottom-up flow. Vigilantism was something that came from the
        common folk, while in Utah it was ordered by the leaders (Young and Wells) and
        then carried out by the Rockwell’s, Hickman’s, George Grant’s, William Kimball’s,
        Lee’s, and Hosea Stout’s. In Utah the bars and brothels were very orderly and controlled;
        they were not set up on the free enterprise system. In some ways much like the bars
        are today in Utah.

        This brings up my next comment. There is a huge difference
        between the criminals of the 19th century and the 20th
        century. The criminals discussed in the podcast from the 19th
        century are all a part of mainstream Mormonism and close associates of the
        highest leaders. The criminal of the 20th century are outside mainstream
        Mormonism and do not fit within its membership. In some ways Hofmann is the
        exception, in that he is quite, clean cut and seems to be obedient to authority.
        But for being clean cut, it is all a lie. I know quite a few people who were as
        close friends to Hofmann as one could get, and they all said the same thing,
        Hofmann was a chameleon. As Linda Sillitoe told me twenty some years ago,
        Hofmann is a sociopath.

        Bob Smith asked about a cogent reason for the bombings.
        There is none, and I think Salamander does the best job explaining this.
        Hofmann felt the walls closing in and reacted as a sniveling weasel would. He
        murdered two innocent people, and was hoping to murder a third.
         

        • Fred W. Anson Reply

          Thank you for clarifying on the source for the Grant quotes.  Of course now I wonder what context the quotes were delivered in – they seem pretty odd and out of place for a meeting of The Seventy.  However, that’s considering them through a 21st Century lens rather than their true 19th Century cultural context so I could be wrong. 

          As for Hofmann’s motives for the bombings I don’t think that we’ll ever really know.  In his 2009 ExMormon Foundation Charles Larsen, who worked at the prison and had long chats with Hofmann, said that Hofmann loved to obfuscate and play mental games with you telling you one thing the first time you asked and then something entirely different the next time you asked it.  Thus it was hard to tell when, or if ever, he was telling the truth. 

          So even if Hofmann came out and publicly stated, “I did it to divert attention away from me.” for example, we wouldn’t know if that was the truth or a lie. 

          Larsen says that the one thing that Hofmann never lied about was his methods of forgery – he was quite proud of the few that he actually disclosed to Larsen.  According to Hofmann the most important thing in the world was knowing that he was the smartest man in the room along with the satisfaction of knowing that he’d outfoxed everyone in it. Bragging about his forgery methods was a way of saying, “See! See! See how I outfoxed EVERYONE – including the First Presidency!  I was the smartest guy in the room!” 

          Yep, a REAL honest-to-goodness sociopath.  

          Of course I would love to hear what Hofmann would say about his inability to outfox Jerald Tanner.  Not that I would really trust the answer mind you!  I would like to see someone ask the question.

          Here’s a link to the streaming audio for that conference address http://exmormonfoundation.org/files/media/2009Conference/low/2009Exmo_Saturday_Morning_CharlesLarsen_low.m3u

          And here’s the link to the page with all the 2009 conference addresses http://exmormonfoundation.org/audio2009_low.html

  11. Fred W. Anson Reply

    I just got around to listening to this one today. Absolutely riveting – and despite the subject matter, occasionally fun listening. 
    (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For lightening it up with humor from time-to-time)

    I wanted to share something from forensic Psychiatrist C. Jess Groesbeck, M.D. that I think you all might find enlightening (at least I did). 

    But before that I do I want to make sure that everyone knew exactly who Dr. Groesbeck and why his opinion matters: 

    C. Jess Groesbeck is a physician, psychiatrist, and Jungian psychoanalyst. He was one of the Forensic Psychiatrists who examined Ron Lafferty after his arrest for the murder of his sister-in-law Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica. According to investigators, the killer claimed he had received a “removal revelation” from God that targeted four people, including Brenda and Erica. This crime was featured prominently in Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book ‘Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith’. 

    And here’s what Dr. Groesbeck observed in his 1988 Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium address entitled ‘Blood Atonement, Capital Crimes and Mormon Murders: 

    “One of the most dangerous traits and trends of any culture that claims, ‘to have the truth,’ is the tendency to not see it’s blind side and it’s capacity to project it’s own shadow onto others. And then identify with only what is light and good and right from God. And assume that all others that are different belong to the Devil. 

    This is, in my estimation, one of the most serious – if not THE most serious problem we face in collective Mormonism today. Our inability to acknowledge or see our own shadowy side. 

    How desperately do we need to hear, ‘. . . why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3)”
    [37:05 into the presentation]

    “But when no one looks behind the scenes at the collective elements that fomented and set the stage for these kinds of individuals, then painful realities need to be acknowledged in this culture.

    As Richard Howard, Historian for the Reorganized Church said to me, ‘When individuals are isolated and their own religious outlooks are not honored or given at least legitimate discussion, does this not produce the kind of isolation that breeds idiosyncrasy, anger, frustration, alienation and hence aggression toward others?’ 

    The answer to that question would have to be a painful, ‘Yes!'”
    [36:00 into the presentation] 

    And this presentation can be found here on the Sunstone website for anyone who would like to listen to the entire address from start to finish: 
    https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/?page_id=479&product_id=1955&category=3&category=3

  12. T Thompson140 Reply

    Great podcast.  It would be cool to have a podcast on the First Prez valt.

  13. Elder Vader Reply

    I listened to the podcast, and one thing that surprisingly came to mind was that the ‘doctrine’ of blood atonement seems beautiful when applied to these cold blooded killers.  I mean, isn’t that kind of the logic for the death penalty anyway?  You started killing kids, killed dogs for a while, then went back to killing kids.  Whats next for you?  Blood atonement.  

  14. Pingback: Lying for the Lord: A Grassroots Tale

  15. Ozpoof Reply

    If you hear voices in your head telling you you’re a prophet and you take other wives using force, coercion or brainwashing, you may become a venerated founder of a church of millions, or you may be incarcerated and under psychiatric care. It’s a matter of charisma and how many people you can get to do your dirty work while you remain relatively guiltless.

  16. Mike Tannehill Reply

    I really hope that this particular podcast is not anyones first impression of what Mormon Expression is capable of. I was severely disappointed in this one, from the contrived opening premise that opened the episode, to the mocking giggles in regards to sacred things that ended it.

    I think the most telling point of the whole thing was when the show came to a screeching halt and John was asked what the individual being spoken about had to do with mormonism. It was like the crew of the boat explaining to Colonel Kurtz that he had gone too far up river, but he was boldly plowing ahead to establish his kingdom of piss and vinegar.

    Most amazing was the attack on Porter Rockwell. In this podcast he is painted as a mentally handicaped scruff of a man, dirty and unstable, with a penchant for murder. The girl reading her part in describing him attributes over a hundred “murders” to him. Incredibly she fails to mention that these killings took place as Rockwell was serving as a peace officer in and around frontier territory. It is also facinating to note that this so called “mentally retarded scruff of a man” ran and operated numerous businesses including the Pony Express. Rockwell was also often called upon to entertain dignitaries and politicians when they visited Utah, all of whom were excited to meet him and were left with a positive impression of him, finding him far from the savage they had heard of (they also noted that his hair was well kept and stylish).

    John was very much out of character in this one. I dont know why he chose to create a bogeyman to chase after when he is capable of having an intelligent discussion on any number of topics. When all is said and done I didnt know whether to feel angry or sad or disappointed. In the end I think I felt all of those things throughout the day after listening to it this morning.

    • Kris Fielding Reply

      The point of the podcast was to talk about their crimes, not how they were good people the rest of the time. Porter Rockwell was a man of many talents, one of which was killing other people. There’s no getting around that, especially by claiming that they were all legal, which is how your sentence above reads. There could be an entire series of podcasts on Port and the Danites which would be great. Then you could talk about the different facets of their personalities. 

    • Fred W. Anson Reply

      Mike, no criminal is either all good or all bad.  Like everyone else they have good parts and bad parts.  So what’s your point is both fallacious and (at least to me) clearly biased. 

      For example, Charles Manson is a fine singer-songwriter ( http://www.charliemanson.com/music.htm ), an interesting folk artist ( http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=478 ), and a charismatic speaker ( http://grooveshark.com/#/album/Great+Speeches/1828629 ).  

      If we did a broadcast entitled “The Top 10 American Criminals” should we focus on his music, his art, his speeches or his crimes? 

      Would John Larsen be “out of character” if he only spoke about Manson’s “bad parts” in that podcast?

  17. Marion Reply

    I looked up this site to see if I could learn something about Mormonism, but all I’m hearing is silly stuff. What gives?Are you FOR our Mormons, or critical of them??  I have several families of Mormons  on my list of friends. The kindest, most caring people in the world. Now you’re talking about criminals??? I am confused, very. Not good for Mormons, and not bad for them either because it seems to be uselee. Everyone knows about the early Mormons..I have never, in recent years, known of a true Mormon who’s a criminal? A true Mormon, one who practices the religion, would never be a crimnial unless they were crazie absolutely crazy. Someone who’s paranoid of Schizophrenic would go to another area to do their insane activities. I just don’t understand why you’re targeting Mormons as opposed to others. What about Liberal criminals, of Conservative criminals, or Presbyterian, Catholic, MEthodist criminals, etc., I believe the religion if the fifth or sixth largest in the world, why not a few nutcases? Is someone paying you to denegrate this fine religion?  Do you not have anything better to dow ith your time? I’m disgusted, and still listening to your prattle about Mitchell…an old, old, topic. 

    • Richard of Norway Reply

      Are you saying you don’t “learn something about Mormonism” from this site? Why do you think Mormon Expression has to be “FOR or critical” Mormons? Mormon Expression is, exactly as it states at the top of every page, all about “an ongoing dialog of all things Mormon” and is not so much about the people but the religion.

      This particular episode (one of well over a hundred) focuses on the few Mormons who also are (or were) criminals. It’s not a judgement about Mormonism as a whole or in general. It’s just some interesting information. Trivia which many people  probably didn’t know about.

      I am curious why something like this would disgust you. It’s not for or against anything, but an open dialog.

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