Friday, January 6, 2012

Bill McKeever: "Not on Our Watch"

Recently while listening to the Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast of Mormonism Research Ministry, I heard an interesting statement that Bill McKeever prepared and read (with minor variations in phrasing) in all three parts of their "Not On Our Watch" series. I found it interesting and can definitely sympathize with the sentiment (whether or not I ultimately agree with Bill's position), and so I think it's worth quoting the statement here (as he gave it in the first episode) along with citations to the LDS sources lying behind it, most of which were quoted during the remainder of the podcast series. (In a few cases, I don't have access to the texts they mentioned, and so forgive me if any citations are mistaken.) The series, and this statement, was essentially a reaction to two claims: (1) the claim that it's ridiculous to suggest that the LDS faith is in some important sense outside of the Christian fold, and (2) the claim that Latter-day Saints never level harsh criticism at other faiths or at their adherents.
But let me see if I understand this correctly, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Let's see. You say my church is "wrong"1, you say my creeds are an "abomination"2, my pastor is "corrupt"3, my Heavenly Father is 'invented'4, my Jesus is "mythical"5, my Trinity is a "monster"6, my justification is "pernicious"7, my grace is a "fallacious doctrine originated by Satan"8, and my Bible is not trustworthy.9 Then when I attempt to offer any sort of disagreement or rebuttal, you accuse me of hatred and bigotry, or even of being 'un-Christlike'. And if that isn't enough, to add insult to injury, you want to steal my name [of 'Christian']! Let me just say, folks: not on my watch. I am not going to be manipulated by people that try to use these type of measures to coerce me into embracing an organization that teaches things that are blatantly unbiblical, just so that we might have peace.
I offer this provocative statement here for several purposes: (1) to stir up discussion; (2) to provide some counters at least to the mantra that Latter-day Saints (individually or corporately) never criticize other faiths; (3) because I think this quote offers some insight into both (3.1) why non-LDS Christians might feel naturally combative when confronted with LDS sentiments about their own faith and (3.2) why some non-LDS Christians might be reluctant to award the title of 'Christian' to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a whole; and (4) simply for easier future reference..

Hopefully sometime in the next few days or weeks I'll have the opportunity to offer some belated replies to a few people, draft a number of the posts I've been meaning to write, and reply to any comments here.

1 Joseph Smith History 1:19
2 Joseph Smith History 1:19; Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1979), 440-441; Hyrum M. Smith, "Discourse by Elder Hyrum M. Smith", Liahona The Elders' Journal 14/27 (2 January 1917): 419.
3 Joseph Smith History 1:19; Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855), 167; Hyrum M. Smith, "Discourse by Elder Hyrum M. Smith", Liahona The Elders' Journal 14/27 (2 January 1917): 418-419.
4 Edward L. Kimball, ed., Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1995), 426.
5 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1979), 269.
6 Joseph Smith, "Sermon in the Grove", 16 June 1844, quoted in History of the Church 6:476, and reprinted in Joseph F. Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1977), 372. The word "monster" was added in the reconstruction of the sermon, and does not appear in Thomas Bullock's original notes, though these themselves make clear that Joseph Smith leveled a great deal of hostile mockery at this sacred and central Christian teaching, and certainly whoever introduced that particular word was also LDS.
7 James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1899), 120; Joseph Fielding Smith, The Restoration of All Things (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1945), 192.
8 Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1969), 206.
9 Articles of Faith 8; Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon (1850), reprinted in A Series of Pamphlets on the Doctrines of the Gospel (Salt Lake City, UT: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884), 218-220; Neal A. Maxwell, "The Wondrous Restoration", Ensign (April 2003), 35.


  1. I am not going to be manipulated by people that try to use these type of measures to coerce me into embracing an organization that teaches things that are blatantly unbiblical, just so that we might have peace.
    The assumption here is that these things were all written in order to coerce him into embracing ... (etc.) and that he's going to stand fast and not be coerced.
    Since the initial assumption is wrong, it's hard to say much else. Most Mormons don't try to coerce anyone with arguments because that approach is doomed to failure. We invite others to examine the evidence for themselves and to see if these things are true.
    McKeever seems to see himself as a valiant warrior, resisting the coercion of the Mormons, heroically defending his faith. It's too bad that a man of such strength and faith will not make the effort to question his own assumptions nor make a sincere effort to learn about the supposed enemy he is defending against.

    1. Coercion comes in many forms. To say that Mormons simply "invite other to examine the evidence for themselves" is little more than a facade.
      Christians are indeed warriors (Eph 6:10-20) and some ARE called to resist the coercion of the Mormons and ALL are called to defend the faith (1Peter 3:15-16).

  2. I think that this rather perfectly highlights how people who are trying so hard to "deconvert" Mormons (of which I used to be one) will build an argument 1) based on sources from various Mormon leaders/historical figures, and 2) based on the premise that every single Mormon either accepts each of those people as authoritative sources of revelation/Truth (so that they can act as if the Mormon with whom they are "debating" made those statements themselves), or that they must declare themselves hypocrites. McKeever seems to think that Mormons must either profess these ideas as their own personal beliefs or admit that they aren't "really" Mormon. His argument is a fallacy, because that just isn't true.

  3. Anonymous, I believe you may be misreading McKeever (though understandably so). He isn't saying that the various footnoted appellations are attempts at coercion; rather, he's saying that he has seen attempts to coerce Evangelicals and others into conceding the label of 'Christian' to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which - in light of the series of attacks McKeever outlines - he finds to be a further act of aggression. While I don't think one is clearly obligated to accept McKeever's perspective, I think it also doesn't take much imagination to see precisely where he's coming from in that regard.

    Macha, I think you present an astute analysis of the dynamics of how this argument works; I think McKeever's argument works best against those - and there are many out there - who ardently maintain that Latter-day Saints never have, never do, and never will criticize any other religious perspective. I can't speak for McKeever, but I could imagine that his argument might gain some strength from the lack of any unambiguous repudiation of these sorts of statements (made by authoritative leaders) by influential Latter-day Saints today. (Perhaps McKeever would also add a query regarding what position a typical modern-day Latter-day Saint would have for rejecting a statement by a past prophet or apostle, particularly without explicit authorization from a present-day equivalent figure; but that would take us into the thorny realm of navigating LDS webs of authority.) Of course, there is a further complication in that a few of the epithets are to be found in LDS scripture, and I have little doubt that McKeever would make much the same case with just those remaining. At any rate, I can sympathize with McKeever's sentiment of indignation when faced with the prospect of a group that historically has fostered the application of these sorts of attacks to all [other] Christian groups, now demanding that he and others accept them unquestioningly as 'insiders', regardless of what his conscience permits. As I've alluded elsewhere, I think the issue of Mormonism's 'Christian' status is a more complicated matter than this.

  4. It is nice that such a blog exists. I think a friendly and fruitful dialogue needs to exist between the evangelical movement and the LDS church. I am tired of being called a deceived person and being told that I and my family are going to outer darkness due to my faith as a Latter-Day-Saint by members of a local non-denominational Christian church. I am a young husband and father, a school teacher, soccer coach, and a Bishop. Life is busy and often hard, but very good and each day is a blessing. My Faith sustains me, and gives me great reason to hope for a better tomorrow. I do not understand what drives people like McKeever to carry on their work of slowly pulling down another church which does so much good for others around the world. If Christ were here, he would be a home teacher as He was in the beginning and will always be, inviting others to come follow him, acting and doing what the poor and helpless cannot do for themselves. I will follow any and all individuals who embody this ideal, an sustain them, regardless of the faith that they prescribe to.

  5. MSTRASS - Thank you for your comment! I agree, there does need to be more friendly dialogue. That said, though, I think we need to be more charitable to Bill McKeever's perspective. I think he has some very valid misgivings in the statement quoted above. I'm also not persuaded that, as a general rule, that there is anything wrong with critiquing a movement that does some certain amount of social good. Obviously, Evangelicalism does (and has done in past ages) a vast deal of good for many people around the world; and, just as obviously, past and present leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had criticisms of Evangelicalism and other religious movements, even if they are usually not stated as forthrightly these days due to the social mores of our time.