Mormon Apologetics: Doing More Harm than Good?

For me, Mormon apologetics has gotten ridiculous lately.  Here are two cases in point:

  • Ben Withington’s Patheos blog post titled “Why Mormonism is not Christianity–The Issue of Christology.”
  • John G. Turner’s op-ed piece in the NYTimes (18 Aug 2012) titled:  “Why Race is Still a Problem for Mormons.”

The major problem with apologetics is it makes Mormons look defensive.  Suddenly our detractors are controlling the agenda.  To continue to respond in a defensive manner is counterproductive.  And in the case of Turner, he is not (and I repeat not) a detractor.  And his suggestions are sound.

Witherington, an evangelical, is out to prove that Mormons aren’t Christian.  He states that we are not Trinitarians, we believe in an embodied God, we place a strong importance on works, we blur the distinction between God and man, we don’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, and–heaven forbid–we are polytheistic.  First of all, I don’t care if Witherington doesn’t think Mormonism is a Christian faith.  Why does he get to decide that?  Mormons believe in Christ, and in my book that makes us Christian.  And second, I don’t have any trouble pleading guilty to all of Witherington’s accusations, including the one on polytheism (although I would prefer something akin to henotheism).

Consider this assault on Witherington by Mormon apologist Blake Ostler:

I deny that Mormonism promotes polytheism.  I have actually written a book on it [I won’t plug the book here, Ostler does it four times in the post I’m quoting].  The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are distinct but decidedly not separate.  The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in the same sense that Social Trinitarians have suggested–they are united in perichoretic unity of spirit and purpose, in shared omniscience and glory.  There is only one sovereign of the universe in Mormon thought–the Trinity or Godhead of three divine persons united as one in unity of thought, purpose, knowledge, power, act, and glory.  It is true that Mormons deny metaphysical simplicity.

I’m not a Trinitarian.  And I don’t think Mormonism was ever Trinitarian.  Also, I don’t believe that God is omniscience, in an absolute sense.  I believe that God is omniscience when compared to humans.  What part of “eternal progression” and “as man is God once was; as God is man may become” does Ostler not understand.  These beliefs, by their very nature, imply that Mormons are polytheistic.

I had to look up the word perichoretic.  Perichoresis is defined as:  “the mutual inter-penetration and indwelling within the threefold nature of the Trinity.”  I believe in a multitude of gods (for example, Father and Son are seperate entities, and who knows what else is going on in the multiverse out there), and that makes me polytheistic (although there are better words to describe Mormonism).  It doesn’t embarass me, and I don’t feel a need to go through mental gymnastics to prove I’m monothesitic.

In all this, there is some sort of prejudice against polytheistic beliefs.  For some reason, monothesism is thought by many to be a higher belief structure.  I’m not sure why; I’m not an anthropologist.

What concerns me here is that Ostler is attempting to describe what Mormons believe.  And I have no reason to believe that what he proposes is any more accurate than that of the late Bruce R. McConkie, a man I have serious disagreements with.  Additionally, if we try to blur the differences between Mormons and Evangelicals, doesn’t that weaken our identity as a church?  Let’s be proud of the differences.

As for the Turner article, most of the boggernacle comments have concerned who and what were responsible for the black priesthood ban.  Was it only Brigham Young, or did it go back to Joseph Smith?  How important was the political environment in America when the ban was enacted?  (I don’t think that any historian currently believes that the ban was actually church doctrine.  “The blame it on God” argument doesn’t work for me.)  Turner, in his NYTimes article, suggests that the LDS Church needs to apologize and get on with it.  I agree.  The 1978 decree left too many questions unanswered. 

Turner is doing us a favor.  To argue and debate with him over the details is foolish.

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