Sunday, July 17, 2016

Some Lives Really Do Matter More

 It's time someone stood up and said this clearly:  Some lives really do matter more than others.

This blog is not intended to be "politically incorrect." It is not racist in any way shape or form, since hundreds of thousands of those lives which really do matter more are black lives, Hispanic lives, Asian lives or "other" lives. 

Yet the fact that some lives really do matter more is not being said, and it needs to be said, despite the risk of being labeled a racist for saying it.

Some lives really do matter more than others.  They are not black lives - nor are they white lives - race has nothing to do with why they matter more than others.  And they matter not because they are Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim - or if they believe in nothing at all.  Their lives matter because of what they do with their lives. They are worth more to all of us in society because they risk their lives to ensure that the rest of us can live our lives unmolested by those who think only their own lives matter.

Our society exists because there are some lives - the lives of people, men and women, black and white, faithful and non-believers - who are dedicated to preserving, protecting and defending society.  Without them, society as we know it would not long survive.  These men and women come from all races, all religions, all nationalities - and, because of what they do on behalf of the rest of us, their lives matter more to society (and, if we're honest, to ourselves) than do the rest of our lives.  Why? Because without them, the society - the civilization - that we cherish would swiftly disintegrate into unending chaos. That would put all of our lives at risk in a way we who believe in national defense and civil order can barely imagine.

These lives which matter more than the rest of ours belong to the men and women who serve in our armed forces - as well as those who serve as city, county, state or national law enforcers.  Add to them the EMTs and firefighting first responders, along with those who staff our emergency rooms - they live their lives to save the lives of others.

Don't believe me?  Consider this:

Imagine a world where the United States had no military forces. How long would we survive as a free and independent nation when any two-bit tin-horn dictator, Muslim fanatic (think ISIS or the Ayatollah) or sociopathic world leader (Putin) could send his military to disrupt or destroy America.  We have a hard enough time dealing with terrorists and dictators and sociopaths even when protected by the millions of American men and women who bear arms in defense of our country.  Surely, the lives of these volunteers - all of whom stand ready to lay down their lives in defense of the rest of us - matter more to our country (and to each of us personally) than do those who reap the benefits without sharing the risks.

Now imagine your city with no police, EMT or firefighters poised to respond to 911 calls - to rush to your aid when you are attacked by burglars, drive-by shooters, arsonists or those who just get a kick out of hurting others.  When they don their uniforms, they make of themselves targets, as we saw today in Baton Rouge and not too long ago in Dallas.  Without them, there would be no civil order - it would be every man or woman for themselves, and the only safety would come from the barrel of a privately-owned gun.  Vigilantism would be the order of the day, even as chaos would be the only surviving "rule of law."  Surely those men and women who make themselves into targets - who risk everything, every day - to protect the rest of us and to ensure that our society continues to exist based on the rule of law - surely their lives matter more than do the lives of men and women who do nothing more than pay their taxes to ensure the continuation of our civil society.

Postscript:  This blog was written as my reaction to today's shooting in Baton Rouge, a shooting that took the lives of three policemen (all husbands and fathers, and at least some veterans of military service to America).  I do not know these men's race, or religion, or ethnicity - nor do I care, for regardless of who they are or where they came from, they are the glue that holds America together, and because of that, their lives matter more - more than mine, more than yours, more than the vast majority of Americans who pay taxes (and, in some cases, pay tribute to the fallen), but who do not take it upon themselves to risk their lives to benefit all of us.

I do know the race and faith of the shooter - but that doesn't matter.  He could have been any race, and any faith, and his actions would be no less heinous.  In terms of God, all men and women are equal, but in terms of our society, this life did not matter.  Those who would say his life did matter are mistaken - hopefully with good intentions, but all too often with harsh and hateful socio-political views driving their belief in this man's value to society.

Final postscript:  As a young man, I volunteered (twice) to serve in the US Navy, and did briefly serve in the US Air Force, before a vision problem deteriorated to the point that I was "legally blind" without corrective lenses.  However, this desire to serve is not the same as serving.  My life matters no more than any other who has not served - and I and my family are in perpetual debt to those who do don the uniform of their city, their county, their state or of the United States.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In the Wake of the Episcopal Church’s “Punishment” …

Holy Marriage vs. Gay Marriage
A Christian’s Case for the Haitian Model of Marriage

Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.  Matthew 22:21

Last week, as I write this, the worldwide Anglican Confession booted the American Episcopal Church out of their communion. The Episcopalians are in an organizational “penalty box” for the next three years, all because of their “secular” and profoundly politically correct stand in support of gay marriage. 

And not just secular gay marriage performed by a Justice of the Peace or by “Elvis” in Las Vegas. No, the Episcopal Church in the US has come out in support of offering to perform sacramental marriage, officiated and blessed by a priest, in a church, standing before God’s altar.

In this conflict of standards between the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church in America, basically it comes down to a simple dichotomy.  When it comes to marriage as a holy sacrament, the Episcopalians are for sanctifying gay marriage. However, the Anglican Communion – and, I believe, God – are against sanctifying gay marriage.

I’m sure that statement – and what follows – will outrage some gay Christians (as well as gay non-Christians), along with many of their non-gay supporters.  There are some people for whom playing the victim card (as I wrote about in American Thinker), or for whom attacking others instead of engaging them in reasonable discussions are their “default settings.” 

From these angry, always-ready-to-be-offended card-carrying victims, I’m expecting charges of homophobia and “hate speech” and worse. 

To that I say:

·       First, you don’t know my heart, and if you think you do, you’re almost certainly wrong.

·       My oldest and closest friend in life – the man who was, for more than 40 years, literally the brother I never had – was a gay man who was also a practicing Christian. He attended church regularly and sought out God, trying to find a balance between what he felt was his nature and what God had in mind for him. 

·       Bottom line:  I have no issues at all against individual gays – every gay man or woman I’ve ever gotten to know personally became a friend. However, I do have issues with organized pressure groups (gay or otherwise) who try to enforce their secular agendas on me, my family or my church.

So, if you don’t like what I have to say here, and you think that instead of a reasoned reply, your best and most effective response is to attack me personally, then all I can say is this:

Bring it on.

But set aside potential personal attacks – let’s return to the issue at hand.  This issue not only involves the Episcopal Church in the USA, but it now also transcends that one denomination. Pressures by gay activists and their supporters are reaching into every aspect of Christian church life. 

This issue matters to me for a couple of reasons. First, I was raised by my mother in the Episcopal faith, and I’ve always had affection for the Episcopalian Church.  Second, my wife and I have been visiting an Episcopal congregation here in town, with thoughts that we might join. 

However, the support by the Episcopal Church for performing the sacrament of marriage for gay couples has changed that.  Though we may continue to visit, joining that congregation is no longer an option for us, for reasons that I hope to make clear.

Consider this: the entire gay marriage issue is being mis-represented.  It is being framed by gay and pro-gay Episcopalians as being all about “gay rights.”  Yet this church issue actually doesn’t have anything at all to do with gay rights.  Instead, it’s about who the church is listening to – to God, or to those politically-correct activists.

Like it or not, the Supreme Court settled the gay marriage matter last year when they ruled that gays have a legal, constitutional right to be married – by the state.  Despite your feelings or mine, that legal rights issue is over.  In America, any two consenting adults can demand the right to be married by a JP or other licensed marriage officiator – including, at least in Las Vegas, Elvis – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.  Period!

However, that ruling has no force on churches which – under our constitution – still cannot be forced to sanctify a gay marriage that is in conflict with the church’s core, doctrinal beliefs.  At least not yet.

Despite what outraged gay Episcopalians (and others, gay or straight, Episcopalian or non-believer, who support them) have been saying, this whole issue isn't about "rights," let alone “gay rights.”  As noted, those rights have already been secured by the courts.  Rather, this whole cosmic kerfuffle is all about a denominational Church of God choosing to sanctify a behavior that embraces both intentional, habitual and unrepented sin.  

That choice – to sanctify before God an inherently sinful relationship – runs against everything the bible says about sanctifying any kind of sinful behavior. It also runs against 2,000 years of biblically-sound Christian thought.

Correct me if you think I’m wrong (and I’m sure that some will), but as far as I can tell, there is no equivocation in the bible when it comes to the sin of homosexuality. Nor does the bible equivocate when it comes to the sin of fornication, or adultery, or blasphemy, or theft or murder.   

This isn’t about homosexuality – God doesn’t “play favorites” among the various kinds sins.

It is true that some Christians act – and may even believe – that homosexuality is a “special” kind of sin.   The only “special” kind of sin I can find reference to in the New Testament is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, a sin against which Christ warned in all four Gospels.

But homosexuality is not a “special” sin – it is merely the often-condemned sin of carnal lust, with a twist.  1 Corinthians (pronounced “First Corinthians”) condemns homosexual acts, but in that book Paul does so in the same breath as he condemns nine other kinds of equally egregious sins.

Also, God makes a big difference between the temptation to sin between man with man, or woman with woman, and the act of giving in to the temptation.

God’s anger is not directed toward the person who feels inclined toward homosexuality – or adultery, or fornication, or theft, or any other sin, whatsoever. His anger is directed toward the person who acts on the temptation.   We are all tempted by sin, every day.  Yet God judges us not by our temptation, but only by our ability to resist temptation. He further judges us, after we fall – and we will fall, all of us – based on our willingness to repent of that sin. Then by our trying, as Jesus admonished us, to sin no more.

For example, many men and women are tempted in the direction of infidelity and adultery, which are egregious sins.  Our divorce statistics show that far too many people cave in to those temptations, and not once, but habitually.  Yet our “stay married” statistics show that many people manage to resist those marriage-destroying temptations. Instead, they choose to remain pure within the bounds of their marriage.

Yet there remains a  profound difference between the church sanctifying a marriage among two sinners who are not intent on committing habitual sin, and the church violating everything the bible teaches on the subject by sanctifying a marriage based on the intent to habitually sin.  One marriage represents an honest attempt by two repentant sinners to place God’s commands ahead of man’s weakness.  The other so-called marriage enshrines man’s weakness and sanctifies his intent to keep sinning, all in violation of both teaching and tradition.

This does cut both ways.  This is not just about homosexuals choosing to marry, and to do so in a Church and blessed by God. It can apply in other ways as well, if only hypothetically.

Ask yourself:  “What would God and the Church do if a couple, upon getting married, vowed to stray from their marriage bed every chance they got? Would the church sanctify that marriage?”  

Of course not. 

No priest or pastor is going to give God’s blessing to a marriage doomed to failure by the parties’ prior commitment to sin in such a fashion.  The church sanctifies a marriage based on the shared vow to “forsake all others”, and to “love, honor and cherish for as long as we both shall live.”

Jesus made it clear that any sin (except, as noted, for blaspheming against the Holy Spirit) is forgivable.  This includes the sinfulness of the homosexual act.  There is no question that such acts are sinful in the sight of God.  On that issue, both the Old Testament and the New Testament seem clear and unequivocal.

·        You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22)

·        If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act … (Leviticus 20:13)

·        Therefore, God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature, rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. (Romans 1:24-25)

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.  And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper (Romans 1:26-28)

·        Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither the fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves; nor the covetous; nor drunkards; nor revilers; nor swindlers shall inherit the Kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
However, note two things. 

First, as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 6:11, the sin of homosexuality can all be forgiven through Jesus. 

Second, while the sin of homosexuality is a barrier to inheriting the Kingdom of God, it is not the only such barrier – and all may be forgiven.  Barred from the Kingdom are fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, the effeminate, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers and swindlers are all also barred from inheriting the Kingdom of God.  Paul noted this in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

In God’s eyes (except for blaspheming the Holy Spirit), all sins are equally damnable, and equally forgivable

Yes, I know that attitude is politically incorrect. However, God isn’t bound by the transitory expectations of hedonists who want what they want, when they want it and the way they want it, all without the risk of condemnation or judgment.

Homosexual acts are forgivable.  However, that sin (like all other sins) can only be forgiven as long as the person who commits the sinful act repents and tries to turn his back on that sin.  Jesus says, in John 8:11 and John 5:14, and min many other verses, "I forgive you of your sins – now go and sin no more."

God’s forgiveness comes linked to repentance, as well as to a commitment to at least try to sin no more.  Yet a “sanctified” gay marriage is entered into by two people who intend to keep right on sinning.  How can the church sanctify, through a holy sacrament, that kind of marriage? 

Whether it is two gays pledging to keep engaging in homosexual sex or two straights pledging to engage in extramarital affairs at every opportunity, no church can honor God and still sanctify such a union.

Which brings us back to the Episcopal Church I was raised in, and the Church my wife and I have been visiting locally.  While we had been visiting, we had not joined, in large part because we are uncomfortable with this denominational policy of sanctifying sinful behavior.

But we were on the fence until the events of this past week.  This Anglican Communion ruling against the Episcopal Church brings it all to a head.

This Church has (in my opinion) made a serious doctrinal error by embracing man's (politically correct) standards of the moment in the place of God's eternal standards. I further believe that the Anglican Communion was right in citing scripture reflecting God's view on homosexual acts.

I take the Anglican Communion’s action as rebuking the Episcopal Church.  “Rebuking” in the sense of 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Personally, and from a purely secular perspective, I don’t care who marries whom in a civil marriage.

But as a Christian, I cannot see a gay marriage being sanctified. Such a marriage enshrines a sinful foundation, which is not in accord with God’s law as I understand it.

Of course, we are all sinners, but there is a huge, fundamental difference between struggling against sin and embracing sin as a lifestyle choice. The Episcopal Church, with its openly (and apparently actively) gay priests and bishops, as well as its embrace of gay marriage, seems to have forgotten this lesson.

God loves and forgives sinners, but the Church is expected to follow the rules, not rewrite them to suit the politically-correct flood-tide of transitory public opinion. The Reformation took place because the Roman Church lost sight of this. In the process, Western Christianity was torn asunder.

Sadly, those who insist that being politically correct is more important than being justified before God are inviting another “Reformation.”

 However, there is a solution that should satisfy people of goodwill on both sides of the gay marriage debate within the faith. 

In many places throughout the bible, I find references to God’s double-standard.  God doesn’t expect heathens to follow Christian principles, since they don’t know Christ.  However, He doesn’t (and I mean REALLY doesn’t) expect Christians to slip into the pattern of following secular principles. 

I think that this fact could – properly applied – go a long way toward resolving the gay marriage kerfuffle that’s going on in society, and among Christ followers.

I could be wrong here, and if someone with a better understanding of the bible can point me in the right way, I’d be deeply grateful. Until then, allow me to offer a few thoughts on the subject. 

Starting with Haiti.

A while back, a friend of mine got married in Haiti – twice.  First, he and his new bride had a sanctified-before-God religious wedding, conducted in a chapel and presided over by the two ordained gentlemen (a priest and rabbi) who ministered to the two people getting married.  Then, following the reception – a celebration of their “real” marriage – my friend and his bride complied with local laws and had a secular marriage, performed in the office of the Haitian equivalent of a Justice of the Peace. 

In Haiti, as a matter of policy, the state recognizes that a marriage is a state-supported contract used for taxing and benefit purposes. That is essentially a secular marriage, and under Haitian law it should be performed by a JP.  However, the Haitian law makes it clear that a sacred marriage is something entirely different – it is a sacrament performed in a church or synagogue by an ordained priest, pastor or rabbi. The state has no power to intervene or control that, just as the church has no say in the secular wedding.

Frankly, I think they’ve got the right idea here.

Embracing this dualistic approach could help us Christians to put behind us the semantic and spiritual battles between the one-man-and-one-woman Christians and anybody-who-wants-to gays and their liberal supporters.

It’s hard for most Americans – especially those of us who’ve actually been there (as I have) – to view Haiti as being ahead of the good ol’ USA in any dimension, but this time, I think they are.

Why does this matter?  It matters because it offers a conflict-free resolution to the thorny question of gay marriage.

Though the Supreme Court has blocked states from banning gay marriage – meaning that gay marriages are the constitutional “law of the land” – millions of Christians still hold fast to the idea that a marriage is a sacred rite performed between one man and one woman.

This is where the Haitian model comes into play.

If we Christians embrace that the belief that the only “real” marriage is one performed by their priest or pastor, then regardless of whatever gays and lesbians swear to in front of a justice of the peace, that is between them and the state, and has nothing to do with our faith.  In this scenario, we have no need to attack gay marriages.  To us, those aren’t “real” marriages, and frankly, what they are is none of our business. 

We don’t need to condone them, but as Christians who are in no way involved with them, we also don’t need to attack them.

If you’re also a political conservative who has political issue with gay marriage, by all means, speak your mind.  But please do so as a conservative, not as a Christian.  Why?  Because, realistically, what gays and lesbians do in front of a justice of the peace (or in their own bedrooms) is their business, and what they do doesn’t touch us as Christians.

The problem (if any) arises if gay couples ask for – or demands – a sanctified church wedding. To them we should respectfully and lovingly explain that God’s commands will not allow us to do this.  We can bless them and pray for them, but we cannot sanctify their union.

God does not follow the polling numbers. He doesn’t wait to see what is trending on Twitter before making up (or changing) His mind.  God is not Politically Correct.  And, with His hand held out to sinners with the offer of forgiveness, God still maintains that a sin is a sin – yesterday, today, tomorrow. 

The Church forgets that at its peril.

As always, I could be wrong - I claim no direct line to God's thoughts, so these statements are my beliefs, based on my own reading of scripture.

When the Ignorant Try to Challenge God ...

Sometimes, setting troubled teens on the right path requires a dose of tough-love, as well as a healthy portion of truth.  This includes setting them straight on who God and Jesus are, and what they stand for.

The son of a friend - a classic "troubled teen" - thinks he's a lot smarter than he is.  Among other things, in rebelling against his parents, he's also rebelled against the faith they've raised him up in.  Like many late-teen rebels, he thinks that he's both clever and always right.  And, like many troubled teens, he thinks he's a "man" if he takes on established beliefs and turns them on their heads with clever rhetoric.

Recently, he sent me this (below) as an attempt to "prove" to me that Jesus was a Communist-Liberal, and why being a "Christian Conservative" is an oxymoron.  I have to believe he cribbed this from someone else, if only because I can't see him taking the time to research this and put it all together.  I could be wrong here, but I don't think so.

In words taken from the movie "Moonstruck," he was trying to be "strong on me," proving to me that my beliefs are built on shifting sands.  However, all he did do was prove his own ignorance (and the ignorance of whomever first wrote this for him).

As I wrote to him, "each of your 20 points is equally off-base. None of them make Jesus out to be a statist, which is what Communist-Liberals are. They advocating wielding the state's power (including police power) to force people to do things against their will, things the ruling elite (the Communist-Liberals) think are "the right things to do."  

Jesus never advocated turning to awesome power of government for solutions.   Instead Jesus always advocated that people should do things themselves.  He further advocated that people were to do these good things out of free will, not because they were forced to. Jesus and his teachings are the antithesis of what communists and American liberals stand for - state power forcing "good" (as they see it) on people, instead of inspiring people to reach deep within themselves to do good out of Love - love of God, love of fellow man, love of self.

Below are the so-called 20 reasons why Jesus was a "Communist-Liberal" ... and my answers.

Christian-Conservative is a Oxymoron!
Twenty facts supporting why Jesus was a Communist-Liberal:

1. He threw the money changers out of the temple and called them thieves. They were just ordinary businessmen in a laissez-faire economy. 

The money changers were making a mockery of the most sacred location on earth - God's holy temple - turning it into a marketplace, and practicing corruption in their transactions (robbing tourists by short-changing them and over-charging them).  It was a matter of both respect for God and integrity in commerce.  Jesus never had an issue with people who worked to make their living - he expected everyone to do that.  But he expected them to do so while respecting God and practicing their faith in their business.

2. He said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

Many ignorant people like my young friend assume that Jesus is saying, in effect, that "it's impossible for a rich man to get into heaven." But that's not what Jesus meant at all. 

In Jesus' time, there was a small, man-sized portal through the massive stone wall that surrounded Jerusalem - it was called "the eye of the needle." It was INDEED possible to get a camel through there, but it sure wasn't easy.  The camel first had be persuaded to kneel down on a low wheeled cart. Then the camel had to be blindfolded so he wouldn't freak out going through what was, in effect, a stone tunnel. Next, a few strong men had to push and pull the cart (and the camel) through the "eye of the needle."

What Jesus is saying is that it is indeed possible for a rich man to get into heaven, but he's going to have to really work at it.

3. He encouraged people to give everything they could, and promised that God would support everyone in need. Just like socialism. Matthew 19:21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me

 There are several things wrong with this.  First, Jesus was challenging someone to take an act out of love to help others - and that his reward would be in heaven.  Socialism doesn't ask - it takes.  It (not the individual) decides what each person should have, and where those resources are coming from.  Which is nothing like what Jesus was saying.

Beyond that, Jesus was making a specific point to a specific individual, one who prized his wealth above all things. He wasn't saying that everyone had to give up wealth. Instead, he was saying that we have to be ready to let go of the things of this earth that we prize, and focus on spiritual perfection and the rewards of heaven.  Some might prize wealth - or beauty - or reputation - or ... fill in the blank.  This was another way of saying that man cannot serve two masters.  You can have wealth if it doesn't control you - but you cannot let anything of this earth control you at the expense of your love of God.

4. "turn the other cheek"

 First, you'd have to be pretty ignorant to think that Communists - who practice pogroms and purges and run gulags and murder millions of their own people (Stalin killed 20 million Russians, and Mao killed maybe 60 million Chinese) - ever advocate turning the other cheek.

Beyond that, as with everything else Jesus taught, he wasn't commanding you do something or suffer the punishment of the state (which is what statists like Communist-Liberals do). He was urging, out of love, to allow others to make mistakes without repeating those mistakes yourself.

5. "love thy enemy"

 The answer here is pretty much the same answer as "turn the other cheek." This is not something that Communist-Liberals are inclined to do - they'd rather destroy their enemies than love them.  Jesus wanted his followers to focus on love and heaven, not hate and things of this earth.  If you hate your enemy (it's easy to do), it takes you away from your love of God.  If you love your enemy, in the name of God, that brings you closer to God.  Judgments are up to God, not to man.

6. "blessed are the peacemakers"
7. "blessed are the meek"
8. "woe unto ye who are rich"
9. "forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors" -- clearly he would favor bailing out poor people with subprime mortgages.
10. "Give us this day our daily bread" -- what a sense of entitlement to demand handouts!!!
11. "Every mountain shall be made low, every valley shall be exalted" --although this is actually from Isaiah's prophecy about the messiah, it looks like a metaphor for proletarian revolution
12. Some early christians (before 200BC) actually established agricultural communes.
13. Jesus is soft on crime: anybody who believes in his scapegoat-like sacrifice will be forgiven.
14. Jesus loves the poor, the prostitutes, the lepers, etc. And he gave them free healthcare! That's not what Ronald Reagan or John McCain would do.
15. Jesus himself said nothing about or against homosexuality.
16. "and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy father which is in secret" -- clearly Jesus opposes school prayer.
17. Jesus performed the "miracle of the loaves and fish" -- divine government handouts for the poor.
18. "ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened" -- giving the poor a sense of entitlement
19. "Blessed are the merciful"
20. "And if any man will sue thee, and take away thy cloak, let him have thy coat also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away" -- He clearly favors caving in to terrorist demands, and giving the poor everything they want. Pacifist hippie communist!!! So why do people who call themselves "christian conservatives" have nearly opposite views to most of the things in this list?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jonah: The Other Message

 Who's Side is God On, Anyway?

The Book of Jonah is one of the shorter books in the Old Testament and - I think - perhaps one  of the most misunderstood.  But it also contains an often-overlooked message:  one that is quite relevant for us, today, in America and in our world.   This is the message about God taking sides in human affairs - it asks the question "Who's Side is God On, Anyway?"  The book then offers an answer that surprised Jonah thousands of years ago, an answer that will continue to surprise many of us today.

The first and most widely-known message of Jonah is fairly clear - if God has a mission for you, running away from God won't do you much good.

However, there's another message in Jonah, one that doesn't come across much, but it is also one that has perhaps more relevance to our lives today than the first message.

In a nutshell, God directed His prophet Jonah to go to Israel's hated enemy, Nineveh (capital of Assyria) and preach a message of doom. Though not Jonah's intention, this was a message that invited - or at least allowed - the Ninevites to repent.

Right up front, Jonah doesn't want to go to Nineveh, and he rejects God's command for two very modern reasons.  First, he feared that he'd no sooner show his face in Nineveh than he'd be stoned to death (if he was lucky). These Assyrians were, after all, the sworn enemies of Israel.  The second reason, not quite so immediately obvious, was that because Assyria was Israel's sworn (and much larger) enemy, Jonah really, really didn't want to risk actually helping them. While he was God's servant, he was not a traitor to his native Israel.

So in disobedience, he ran from God, heading to the port city of Tarshish.  There he hopped on a boat, hoping to sail away from God's commands.  Didn't work.  Jonah apparently forgot that God is omnipresent, as well as all powerful.  So God sent a terrible storm, and it wasn't long before the other crew members figured out that somebody's God had been angered. Through a process of elimination, they determined that it was Jonah.  So, after trying in vain to sail back to shore, Jonah realized he wasn't going to have these men's souls on his conscience.

At his own prophetic recommendation, the crew made Jonah walk the plank, doing so to appease his wrathful God.

That worked for the sailors, and - oddly - it worked for Jonah, too.  He was swallowed by a "huge fish" (not a whale, which is one of the first common errors people have in understanding Jonah).  Remember, this isn't the fairytale story of Pinocchio, but a record of God's great works.

After three days in the belly of the beast, God made sure that Jonah was vomited up on the shore by this great fish. But only after Jonah had repented of his folly in trying to run away from God.

That's the beginning of Jonah's story, and that's the message most people take from the book.  "You can't run away from God - if He has a job for you, buckle down and do it, no matter how scary it might be, no matter how much it runs against the grain."

Others, looking more deeply, compare Jonah's three days in the belly of the beast with Christ's three days in the world of death before being restored to life.   In that they are right - the Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming Savior, and this is certainly one of those - but that's not the message for us today.

There's another message that is, I believe, far more relevant to us today than running from God and his commands (though that message also obviously has an eternal value and relevance).

As the story goes on, Jonah goes to Nineveh, preaches the Lord's wrath, including a prophecy of total destruction in just 40 days. Then - surprising Jonah and perhaps even themselves - the people of Nineveh hear the word of God from Jonah.  This included everyone, from the lowliest beggar to the King himself.  All begin fasting, wearing sack-cloth and anointing themselves with ashes, the contemporary Near Eastern symbols of repentance.  God, pleased with their response, decides to cancel His plans to smite Nineveh.

At first, Jonah doesn't know this.

Instead, having followed God's command to the letter, Jonah went out and found himself a ringside seat for the upcoming smiting, holing up in a patch of desert overlooking the city.  In modern terms, he had his bucket of wings, his cold six-pack, his remote - and he was ready to watch the Cosmic Super Bowl, God's wrathful smiting of the greatest city of the age.

But despite all of his expectations and hopes - that Israel's great enemy and nemesis, Nineveh, capital of Assyria, would be destroyed by God's wrath - that didn't happen.

And when it didn't happen, Jonah got mad.  Mad at God.

His thinking went something like this.

"Hey, God, we are Your Chosen People, the faithful sons of Abraham and Jacob, of Joseph and Moses, of Joshua and David.  You're on our side. You're our protector.  And Nineveh, capital of Assyria is our sworn enemy. It deserves smiting - you said so yourself.  And let's not forget that Assyria is a lot bigger and stronger than we are in Israel.  So why didn't You do Your warrior-God thing, just the way You promised, and destroy our enemies. 

"As You yourself had me preach, the Ninevites have certainly earned destruction."

Jonah was mad that His God hadn't stood by His Chosen People's country, ticked off that the God of Abraham hadn't defended His People.  Instead, God had shown mercy - he actually spared Jonah's hated enemy. In doing so, he left them intact and able to attack and destroy Israel, pretty much whenever they pleased.

Besides, Jonah had 50-yard-line seats for the smiting.

 He even told God of his feelings:

"Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home?  That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.  I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."

God tried to teach Jonah an object lesson about compassion and forgiveness, but finally, in the face of this hard-hearted Hebrew, God realized that He was just going to have to lay down the law.

"Should not I have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons ...?"

That's where the Book of Jonah ends, with God scolding and admonishing Jonah. However, Jonah was showing no sign of understanding God's lesson.  True, God gets the last word, and while that last word is in the form of a question, it's a rhetorical question.

In that question comes perhaps the most important message for us - Americans and Christians - living in our world today.

Jonah expected God - his God, Israel's God, the God who'd made the Israelites His Chosen People - to fight on His People's behalf.  Jonah expected his God to make Israel's enemies His own enemies.

That was Jonah's expectation.  And in many ways, that remains our expectation today.

Consider this.

In World War II, President Roosevelt ended his speech to Congress asking that they declare war on our enemy with the words, "So Help Us God!"  And if you listen to a recording, you'll hear that this is not a throw-away platitude (like one of our more secular Presidents ending each speech with "and God Bless America"). Instead, Roosevelt delivered the thundering proclamation of an Old Testament Prophet or Patriarch, invoking God's Own Help, doing so with every expectation that God would get on board, making our enemies His enemies.

Yet also during World War II, emblazoned on the belt-buckle of each soldier serving Hitler and Nazi Germany, was the phrase, "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us).

That's right.  Hitler's Nazis, as a matter of State policy, publicly professed a belief that God was on their side.  Which meant He couldn't be on our side.

In World War II, on whose side was God, anyway?

More recently, the radical Islamic al Qaeda and Hamas and Hezbollah and ISIS terrorists have all professed to doing the Holy Work of Allah.  Their God, Allah, presented to the world by his final prophet, Mohammad, is thought by some to be the same monotheistic God who'd first raised up Abraham, the father of Ishmael - founder of the Arab nation which became the first Muslims.  Their Allah is supposed to be the same God as the Israelites' Yahweh, the One True God who sent his Holy Prophets to the Israelites, including Jesus.

I don't believe that Allah is God, if only because of John 14:

 I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me

But the followers of Mohammad believe that their Allah is the final revelation of the Jewish and Christian God.  So, when these radical Muslims suicide-bomb an Israeli pizza parlor or crash hijacked airliners into the Twin Trade Towers and the Pentagon, are they doing God's Will?

Is He really on their side?

No, God is on no man's side - not even (if our God was also Allah) his prophet's side. Instead, this is the lesson from Jonah:

God expects each of us to be on His side.

This is the lesson of Jonah that applies today.  God made it clear to His own prophet, Jonah, that He (God) was not on Jonah's side - nor was he on his own Chosen People's side.

Instead, He expected His Chosen People - from the run-away prophet to the lowliest shepherd boy with a slingshot - to be on His side. On God's side.

God is infinite and eternal - he doesn't take sides in human endeavors unless doing so suits His purposes. He'll do it for his own reasons, but never for "our" purposes.  He has a single, unchanging side. He demands that we repent of our sins, even if we are among his Chosen People or among those Saved by Christ's blood.  But then He is gracious to offer His forgiveness to all who sincerely repent and call on God for His forgiveness.

Just as the Ninevites did, to Jonah's apparently eternal frustration.

God was not on Jonah's side, or His Chosen People's side, or a Christian's side, or a Muslim's side. God isn't even on America's side.  Instead, He expects us to be on His side.

And that is the real lesson of Jonah.

Latter Day Saints? Or Present Day Samaritans?

If you take a close look at the Samaritans, the polyglot race of people who arose as an identifiable group in what had been the Kingdom of Israel – but only after that kingdom was decapitated by the Assyrians – you might find some surprising parallels with the people who profess to be Latter Day Saints of Jesus, but who most of us know as Mormons.

Both groups blended established God-centered faiths with often-bizarre man-made accretions. Together, and in each case, those two ill-fitting components resulted in bastardized faith that was neither sanctified by God nor was exactly – or at least entirely – pagan. 

Though Wikipedia says there are still around 300 Samaritans known to exist, most of them in Israel, I don’t know any Samaritans personally.  However, I do know some Mormons, including some people I like very much.  The ones I know best are faithful and sincere in their beliefs. Like most people of faith, they believe in the faith of their fathers – the faith they were raised up in. They do so without taking too much time to try and sort out the logic – if any – in their faith, instead focusing on attending services, praying, and on serving their church and their fellow man.

Those folks I know are decent people, and I mean them no offense, just as I have no burning grudge against the Samaritans.  Yet I believe their “faith” is false and man-made, and I fear for their immortal souls.   While they claim to worship Jesus, the Jesus they worship preached to non-existent people in towns no archeologist has been able to find.  That mythic figure is not the Jesus whom John the Apostle boldly proclaimed was the only path to God, quoting Jesus as saying:

I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 – NLT)

However, to understand them, I think a comparison of modern-day Mormons with ancient Samaritans will prove insightful, if not particularly flattering to the Mormons.

There are also some striking similarities between the Latter Day Saints and Islam, in that both “faiths” were created by a single man, who had a “sacred source” that nobody else could see or hear.  In addition, each founder was a polygamist who has been accused of marrying child-brides, girls far below the age of puberty, let alone the age of consent.  But that’s a topic for another time.

To understand today’s Mormons, let’s first look at antiquity’s Samaritans.

Who were the Samaritans?  The Samaritan people began as an agrarian, Semitic people who were left behind when the Assyrians conquered the Ten Tribes who made up the Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrian conquerors did not deport every Israelite.  Instead, they basically decapitated the Kingdom, taking into exile all of the leaders, as well as the priests and the merchants who were the educated “middle class” of the kingdom. 

However, the left-behind Samaritans quickly evolved from an agrarian Semitic people to a more cosmopolitan polyglot race.  This occurred when the Assyrians took people from as many as a dozen conquered lands from all over the Near East and forcibly relocated them to what had once been Israel. Suddenly, the left-behind Israelites were part of a new society, centered around Samaria.  Of course, when these imported strangers arrived, they brought with them their own pagan gods, and their idols, and their priests.

The surviving Israelite peasant farmers and shepherds remembered a time of temple worship and official – if sporadic – opposition to pagan worship.  But these left-behinds had been “the least of these” in their society.  They had no training in anything but agriculture and animal husbandry.  They had no literacy, no temple priests or synagogue rabbis of their own – and, therefore, no way of restarting their “Faith of Abraham and of Moses.” 

However, the imported peoples from a dozen cultures, when confronted with the wild, depopulated wilderness that had become known as Samaria – which, our bible tells us was now the home of fierce wild beasts – petitioned the Assyrians for help.  Soon, some priests of Yahweh were sent to what had once been the state of Israel.

Their mission, appointed by their Assyrian overlords, was to help the new, imported Samaritan upper-class to cope with the chaos which this land had become. They were to do this by propitiating with their tribal god, who was thought to be the head celestial honcho in Samaria.  Among pagans – with their pantheons – a more-or-less universal belief was that each of the “gods” had a specific territory. This could be an area of land, or members of a trade, or even of an attribute.

The thought back in Assyria was that Yahweh was just one tribal god among many, but one who had a special affinity for Samaria. Leaders sent the Israeli temple priests because it was believed that – with the proper priestly intervention – Yahweh could be persuaded to re-tame the wilderness.

All of which meant that Yahweh’s priests had status in the community, but they were not the “only game in town.”  Worse, they were still slaves and expected to get along with the imported pagans, their priests and their gods.  However, since Israel was decapitated because God got fed up with the Israelites repeated flirtation with Baal and his priests, it was not hard for Yahweh’s temple priests to – as we say today – “go along to get along.”

So was born the polyglot Samaritan race, comprised of former Israelite farmers and shepherds, along with “imports” from a dozen conquered cultures and civilizations, each with their own god or gods.  Those priests together forged the “new” Samaritan religion – part adapted Mosaic Hebrew and part imported pagan.  They claimed to be the true descendents of Abraham and Moses – their “bible” stopped with the first five books – but their neighbors in Judea to the south took a somewhat different view of the Samaritans, and their odd mixture of beliefs.

The new Samaritan race made their provincial capital the city now known as Samaria – it had a different name then.  All the people of this land, regardless of origin, became known as Samaritans.

As an aside, among the followers of Yahweh – dating all the way back to the days of  Joseph and of Moses, keeping genealogies had been an important means of keeping track of which tribe a person belonged to. That tribal affiliation could even determine an individual’s career path. Especially for those at the top of the cultural pyramid – such as priests or kings – pure bloodlines were important. 

Today, when we think of “pure blood lines,” we think of Jim Crow laws or Adolph Hitler’s holocaust. But in those days, heritage was important, and pure blood lines often had a life-changing impact, but they weren’t necessarily the cause or trigger for oppression or genocide.  Still, in the ancient Near East, a person’s bloodline mattered – a lot. Yet for the Samaritans, there were no pure bloodlines – none at all – and in that culture, this meant that no natural-born leaders arose to lead them out of bondage to foreign satraps.

To put this into perspective, two of the Gospels – Matthew and Luke – begin with their own genealogies of Jesus.  Each recognized the importance of tracing the ancestry that led to the Messiah – the natural-born leader of the Jews – for indeed, that ancestry was the subject of many ancient messianic prophecies.  This tracking of blood lines was that important to the people of Judea in the time of Christ, in the society and their faith.

Samaritans had nothing to compare with those unbroken bloodlines.  With the Israeli leadership gone forever, and with new settlers arriving from a dozen Near Eastern cultures and races, the polyglot Samaritans quickly became a polyglot race of abandoned Hebrews and imported Pagans.  As subject of the Assyrians, these left-behinds and imports lived together – and interbred together – for more than two centuries before Judea fell.  Intermarriage among these peoples, along with the intermingling of their various pagan religions with the worship of the one true God, served to create in Samaria its own kind of chaos. 

Add to this a salient fact: at no time were these cobbled-together Samaritans ever an independent people. Their race was created by an Assyrian king, and for centuries they were ruled by that king, or by his successors – including Babylonian and Persian successors. Sometimes the Samaritans were ruled harshly, sometimes with a feather-soft touch – but always without any racial or cultural free will.  History records that the Samaritans did what they were told to do, knowing that to disobey meant that they’d face consequences they knew only too well.

Like the Hebrews who God sent Moses to save from Pharaoh after 400 years of slavery, the Samaritans had always a slave race.  Yet unlike the Hebrews, God did not send a savior to free them from bondage.  The Samaritans were, therefore, a people who’d never known freedom. In a world that prized pure bloodlines, they were a polyglot race, which meant they were looked down upon by all “pure” races.  Worse – for their status among their fellow captive and free neighbors – they had a mix-and-match man-made religion. Despite the presence of Israeli temple priests, this Samaritan national faith had only the most tangential relationship to the worship of Yahweh as it was practiced at the time of Moses, or as it was practiced in Judea, Samaria’s neighbor to the South.

The emerging Samaritan people, while claiming to be true literal and spiritual descendents of Abraham and Moses, had their own version of the Five Books that were, at best, only remotely similar to the Hebrew bible’s first five books. The best you could say was that the Samaritan Mosaic scripture was made up of a very different translation.

The Samaritans, of course, claimed their five sacred books to be the only true translation, despite the fact that their neighboring Judean Hebrews had direct generation-to-generation hand-offs of the original texts.  In the Samaritans’ revised Yahweh worshiping religion, they also cast aside all other canonical holy books except their version of the Pentateuch.  In this, the Samaritans turned their backs on Joshua and the Judges, David and Solomon, and on the Israeli kingdom from which they’d sprung.

At this point, you may be wondering, “what does this have to do with the Mormons?”  If you’ve read this far, I ask you to keep reading just a bit farther, as this will all soon become clear.

These Samaritans who evolved out of Israel’s remnants also declared their own Holy Mountain – Mount Gerizim – and the surviving 300 or so Samaritans still hold Mount Gerizim holy to this day.

Naturally, the Samaritans promptly claimed that Mount Gerizim was the “original” Holy Mountain, the one identified by Joshua in the days immediately after the Exodus, and not the “Temple Mount” of David and Solomon.  Accordingly, they built their own Temple on that Holy Mountain, dedicating it to a god they called Yahweh, but not the Yahweh who still guided Judea – when the Hebrews would listen to Him. 

Though he shared the name with the God of David and Solomon, the Samaritan’s god could not have truly been Yahweh. He, as we know, is a jealous God who will allow no other Gods before him.  Yet by all accounts, the Samaritans shared Yahweh’s Temple and their Holy Mount Gerizim with the grab-bag collection of pagan beliefs and pantheistic gods that had migrated to the land once known as Israel.

The Samaritans’ bastardized form of Yahweh worship violated both the sacred guidelines laid out for temple worship in the real Pentateuch, then went a step further by mixing Yahweh worship with the worship of pagan gods and false beliefs in their “something for everyone” man-made religion.

By the time that the Babylonians decapitated Judea the way the Assyrians had decapitated the leadership of Israel, these Samaritans had existed apart from Judea for the several centuries. They had existed as a polyglot slave race for the entire time between the permanent exile of the Ten Lost Tribes and the temporary exile of Judea. 

However, one long generation later, when the Persians took over the Fertile Crescent, they allowed – under government control – the first of the Jews to return to Judea. The reason for their return was imperial policy, which called for identified captive races to reinstate their own faiths, in their own historic tribal regions. This policy led to a vanguard of Jews being sent to the rubble of Jerusalem, there to restore the Temple and to reinstate Temple Worship. The Persians recognized that it was this Temple Worship which had defined the true followers of Yahweh from the time of the Exodus to the time of the Babylonian Exile.

However, when the true followers of Yahweh returned, that’s when their now-meddlesome neighbors, the Samaritans, stepped in.

First, they offered to help the Judeans to rebuild their temple. They offered funds, and labor and materials. They did this even though the Samaritans had their own – and, they claimed, only – real temple, on God’s only real Holy Mountain, Gerizim.  The bible tells us that the Judeans wisely smelled a rat – they swiftly declined the Samaritans’ offer.  

That’s when the true nature of the Samaritans’ offer became crystal clear.  Having been rebuffed locally, the Samaritans took a legal case before the Persian court. They claimed the Judeans were a rebellious lot who had no loyalty to the Persia emperor.  The Emperor sided with the Samaritans, and work on the Jerusalem temple stopped after only the foundation had been laid and the altar erected. 

As Ezra later reported, sixteen years later, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah got the returnees moving again. There was a new Emperor, who overturned the Samaritan decision. With his blessing, and with imperial funding, construction was re-started.  Some scholars believe that Haggai’s last prophetic statements, in Haggai Chapter 2, reflect a renewed offer by the Samaritans to help fund the rebuilding of the temple. 
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai:  “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says:  If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.
But even if that interpretation of Haggai 2 is not what happened – if instead, Haggai was prophesying against those well-off Jews who were unwilling to give their whole heart over to the Temple’s restoration – the Samaritans were still not to be trusted, for their god was false.

Experience quickly taught those Judeans who came back to Jerusalem that their neighboring polyglot race of mixed-faith semi-pagans were no friend of the true followers of Yahweh.  And so it remained until the time of Jesus.

The Judeans later conquered Samaria – only to be conquered in turn by Alexander and his Greeks.  Then the Maccabees retook the land, only to have it later fall to the unstoppable Rome.  Yet no matter who was in charge, the Samaritans were a second-class people, still little better than a slave race, a people who were bystanders in the march of civilization and faith. 

By the time of Jesus, Samaritans were despised by the Temple hierarchy. They were looked on with suspicion and – presumably, prejudice – by the true followers of Yahweh. Despite their oppressed status, the Samaritans maintained that they were authentic Yahweh worshipers. However, nobody else seemed to believe them, or to even care what they believed.

Samaritans and LDS:  So what does that historical look at the origins and fading existence of the Samaritans have to do with the members of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?  Well, a number of things.

However, before we get into that, like the ancient Hebrews, the LDS has a “thing” about genealogy. However, this is not intended to demonstrate pure bloodlines. Instead, their use of genealogy is just one part of the mixed bag of beliefs they hold to. 

At the core of those beliefs, by the way, is this:  through the revelation of Joseph Smith, the LDS and its followers have restored the original church founded by Jesus Christ.  If you understand nothing else about the Mormon faith, understand that they believe that they have the only true faith, and that all of Christendom is an apostasy. 

Beginning the LDS saga, a New Yorker in 1830 named Joseph Smith dug up from a hillside in upper New York State, as he later claimed, a set of golden plates. These plates were inscribed with an unknown language, using an unknown alphabet, and clearly of ancient lineage.  Smith also uncovered a kind of Rosetta Stone that allowed him to translate the words inscribed on those golden plates. 

These translated gold plates became The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the first sacred book in what became the Mormon faith.  The church now has two other sacred texts, The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price, though over time, some sections of those books have been added to, deleted from or eliminated.

Smith claimed that the bible remained a holy book – that his Book of Mormon merely expanded on it. Yet to make this work, Smith also undertook – under the direction of an angelic editor – to rewrite significant sections of the Christian Holy Bible, to make that ancient and sacred book more in-line with his new revelation. In this, Smith broke faith with the last commandment in the Holy Bible, found in Revelation 22:18-19 (NIV):

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.  And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

However, God’s commands as presented in holy scripture never seemed to deter Joseph Smith.

To understand to what the Latter Day Saints anchor their faith – and to better see how closely this parallels the Samaritan’s evolved faith – let’s look at the provenance of the three books sacred to the Mormons.

The Book of Mormon:  This sacred-to-Mormons text describes the resurrected Jesus’ visit to Native Americans in North America some time after he ascended into Heaven.  It includes the writing of various prophets who lived and worked and prophesied during the period from 2,200 BC to 421 A.D. 

These long-hidden prophesies, as well as other “sacred” material, were created for a group of people who God took from Jerusalem to North America 600 years before Christ came to earth.  These people are supposedly linked to the “ten lost tribes” who were taken to Assyria, there to disappear from history.

The golden plates were covered with text that was written in an unknown language by an Egyptian scribe.  He wrote biblically-sounding history and prophecy on plates of gold – a millennium or more later, these plates were given to Smith by the Angel Moroni.  At different times, Smith credited “special spectacles” – magic reading glasses that allowed him to translate and understand the ancient texts. At other times, he credited a pair of seer stones that he put in a top hat for allowing him to read this ancient writing. 

He dictated the text he translated to any one of a group scribes who were generally not allowed to see the golden plates.  However, eleven of Smith’s early followers did testify to having seen, and in some cases, handled, the golden plates.  Once the translation was complete, the golden plates were returned to the Angel Moroni – except for some plates which were stolen and then disappeared from human ken. 

As an aside, tens of thousands of Hebrews saw God’s holy tablets as given to Moses – but only a dozen Mormons, including Smith, claim to have seen the golden plates.

The first were the “Three Witnesses,” who claimed to have been shown the plates by an angel, and to have heard God’s voice vouching for them.  These three later broke with Smith – all were excommunicated, and all later recanted their testimony.  Then, even later – towards the end of their lives – they once again embraced some version of their original testimony.  However, a number of them claimed that their witnessing of the golden plates was in a vision, rather than in a conscious and eyes-wide-open state.

The others were the “Eight Witnesses,” who were either relatives of Smith’s
 or members of one other family – and all of the members of that other family were soon either dead or excommunicated.  None of The Eight made any claim about angels or the voice of God, merely noting that Smith showed them some gold plates.

All of these witnesses were Smith’s family, close friends related by marriage, or financial backers.

Not wanting to break up a good thing, when Smith died, one contender to his earthly throne produced his own buried gold plates and the testimony of eleven witnesses – however, translations of those plates, apparently, were not created, nor is there any evidence of their continued existence.

Unlike the Mormons, Hebrew scripture attests to the ongoing physical presence of the stone tablets.  For centuries after entering the Promised Land, the Hebrews carried that second set of stone engraved by God with them; keeping them safely within His Ark of the Covenant. 

However, except for those gold plates claimed to have been stolen and lost, the other Mormon gold plates were returned to the Angel Moroni. This ensured that no man would be able to ever again gaze on them, let alone try to translate them.

Though this Book of Mormon is purported to be an accurate description of the lives of the exiles from Jerusalem and their descendents, their language was not Semitic, nor was their writing.  In addition, no archeological evidence of this has been found.  Finally, there is no DNA evidence to suggest that any Semitic refugees ever lived in North America thousands of years ago.  If these lost Israelites were here for hundreds of years, they nevertheless managed to leave no evidence – archeological or genetic. After the time of Jesus’ visits and Moroni’s writing, they died out as a people with no surviving offspring.

While reported to have been written in North American for migrants from Israel, the Book of Mormon also included mention of objects and animals not native to North America, including:

Living:  Cattle, horses, asses, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants and wheat

Non-Living:  Steel, brass, chains, iron scimitars and chariots

Nonetheless, the LDS considers The Book of Mormon to be canonical and divinely accurate.

LDS and Samaritans:  Note that one commonality between the Mormons of today with the Samaritans of the sacred text is their creation of a religion that begins with portions of God’s covenant with the Hebrews (and, in the case of the Mormons, with His later covenant with the followers of Christ). However, in both cases, this sacred text is first suitably changed to match the new faith’s evolved and evolving religious needs. This semi-faith is then blended with supposedly divinely-inspired – but fantastical and seemingly man-made – religious-like materials.  Those fantastical Mormon “sacred texts” include the next two:

Doctrine and Covenants:  Originally, the Doctrine and Covenants included speeches by Smith that spelled out doctrine. Over time, that changed, and today, the only still-canonical part of that book is a group of revelations that were given to Smith by God, then dictated by Smith to scribes.  As an aside, that revelation-and-dictation creation style is very similar to the way the Q’uran came into being.

Pearl of Great Price:  The Pearl of Great Price, the other sacred Mormon text, is an assemblage of Joseph Smith’s writings. This includes a rewrite of the creation story, this one credited to Moses, as well as a revision of the story of Abraham. That is reportedly based on papyrus documents Smith purchased from a traveling mummy exhibition, then “translated.”  At the time, nobody could read Egyptian hieroglyphics, allowing the faithful to believe Smith’s “revealed translation.”

These discovered documents were reported by Smith to have been written by the Patriarch Abraham himself, during his sojourn in Egypt, 3,500 years ago.  However, unlike the angelic golden plates, some of these papyrus documents still exist, much to the embarrassment of the Mormons.  For more than a century they were believed to have been destroyed in a Chicago fire, but that is not the case.

Recently, fragments of those papyrus documents were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and other fragments were found in LDS church archives. Instead of 3,500 year old documents written by the hand of Abraham, these fragments were found to be standard Egyptian funerary texts from 2,000 years ago. What has been translated from them bear no relation to Smith’s revealed translation.

Adding insult to injury, The Pearl also contains Joseph Smith’s re-translation of the Gospel of Matthew, containing many significant changes and additions to the original biblical text, which Mormons now refer to as the Joseph Smith Translation. Since Smith had no training in biblical languages, the translations are deemed to have been dictated to Smith by God.

Finally, as an aside, the Samaritans had a pantheon of gods, one of whom was Yahweh.  Joseph Smith took a similar approach in identifying his take on Yahweh and his pantheon. In the “Teachings of Joseph Smith: Section 6, Pages 371-2, 1843-1844,” Smith wrote:
“'In the beginning the head of the Gods brought forth the Gods,' or, as others have translated it, 'The head of the Gods called the Gods together.' The head one of the Gods said, Let us make a man in our own image."
Instead of the triune God who called forth the creation of man in his own image, the Mormon God brought together his fellow Gods to preside in this creation.  If anyone still doubts that the Mormon’s “God” is not the God found in the Christian bible, consider those teachings.

Holy Bible:  Still, the LDS also claims to include the Holy Bible among their sacred books, but, as noted above, their version of the bible has been rather dramatically amended, edited and reinterpreted by Joseph Smith. He restored “lost sections” of the Bible – presumably under God’s guidance – that makes their bible far different, in some sections, than the Christian bible.  This is reminiscent of the Samaritans’ edited and rewritten Pentateuch.

After nearly 200 years, the sacred books of the LDS faith continue to be periodically changed, with material either moved from one book to another or dropped altogether. This is in line with their belief in the continuation of God’s prophetic work, offering new teachings to the latter day prophets who lead the church.  We do not know if the Samaritan religion continually evolved in this way, but it’s not hard to imagine that their made-up religion required periodic upgrading to reflect changing realities.

Doctrine:  Unlike Christianity, which believes that revealed doctrine was complete with the canonization of the New Testament, the Mormons believe that their President is an active prophet, seer and revelator who can, at God’s direction, change doctrine. This has happened many times since April 6, 1830, when Joseph Smith formally created the Church. 

Two of the most important of these doctrinal changes, however, came about not from God, but from outside pressure.  In the first, the Mormons changed their teachings on bigamy, banning the practice after having embraced it for nearly 70 years. They did this – as “revealed by God” – in order for Utah to be admitted into the Union as a state. The US Congress had made it clear that a territory which legalized polygamy would never be admitted to the union as a state, and desperate for acceptance, the Mormon prophet reinvented a core doctrine to suit Congress.

Can you picture Paul suggesting that the Ephesians embrace pagan idol worship to get Rome off their backs?  Neither can I, but roughly 125 years ago such a politically-motivated change dramatically altered the very nature of the Mormon faith.

In enacting the second secularly-driven change, they changed doctrine 40 years ago to acknowledge that members of the black race – in defiance of previous doctrine – were suddenly no longer deemed inherently inferior in the sight of God. Suddenly, they could become priests within the church.

Mormons and Christianity

Joseph Smith claimed that the revelations given him at the creation of the Mormon church, and later, were given him so he could restore First Century Christianity.  Yet in doing so, he and his faith have run afoul of the very teachings they are supposed to be restoring. 

These include:
·       Mormons, as noted above, reject the Trinity in favor of a pantheon of Gods.  The Father God, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, exist, but not as one triune God

·       Until it became politically inconvenient, they believed in polygamy as a  matter of doctrine

·       Mormons believe that upon their death, believers becoming Gods – in effect, joint heirs to the kingdom with Jesus

·       Mormons believe that Jesus’ visit with Smith at age 14 was the most holy act of God since the resurrection, whereas Christians believe that nothing surpasses the resurrection as a holy act of God

·       Mormons believe that a resurrected Jesus came back down from heaven after Pentecost to witness to a non-existent group of Semitic refugees from Israel’s ten lost tribes, in cities that nearly two centuries of archeology have been unable to locate

·       Mormons believe in the retrospective salvation of the dead by living descendants, without their having accepted Jesus as their lord while in this life
There are many more areas of belief where the Mormons’ “restoration of First Century Christianity” runs afoul of core Christian beliefs as presented by Jesus, Paul, the Gospel writers and the Apostles.
Samaritans and LDS

As a race, the Samaritans were created by the forced, “shotgun marriage” of a dozen racial, tribal and national groups – and because of this, their national faith was a weird blend of rewritten Mosaic law coupled with a variety of pagan beliefs – and pagan gods.

The Mormon faith represents another kind of “shotgun marriage,” between a bowdlerized Christianity and a variety of man-made revelations, supposedly inspired by God and delivered by an angel, but clearly made up of bits-and-pieces of other sacred texts, mixed with a man-made mythology that has left no archeological or genetic clue as to its existence.    And in their faith, like the Samaritans, the Mormons believe not in one God, but in a “head of the Gods” and “the Gods.”  And in the possibility that mortal man, after death, can become a God as well.

Conclusion:  The Holy Bible has 66 God-breathed books written by 40 Spirit-inspired authors writing from three continents over a period of more than 1,500 years. It has stood the test of time and faith for more than 3,000 years.  Christ’s miracles were witnessed by tens of thousands over a period of years, and his resurrection was witnessed by more than 500 people, not all of whom had been Christ-followers before His resurrection. 

The books deemed sacred by the Latter Day Saints were written by one mortal man over a period of not much more than a dozen years.  The closest thing the Mormons have to those thousands of Christian eye witnesses were a group of family and friends who were soon either dead or excommunicated.

While many Mormons are earnestly devout and faithful, their beliefs are – like those of the Samaritans – based on human claims and mythical confabulations rather than God’s testimony.