The last few articles have covered how society is trying to redefine some critical element of Mormonism to its detriment, namely marriage and priesthood. We've also recently had discussions on faith and works. In particular, we've discussed the misrepresentation of Mormonism's beliefs regarding grace and faith and the unscriptural claims of sectarian Christians that good works are not required of believers. Let's put these together now. Let's see how sectarian Christians redefine a double standard to excuse their denial of the need for good works while simultaneously pointing the accusatory finger when Mormons fail to manifest good works.
Recently a Baptist minister I know posted an Internet meme on Facebook that said:
Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossiper, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sarah was impatient, Elijah was depressed, Moses stuttered, Zacceheus was short, Abraham was old, and Lazarus was dead—God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the CALLED (punctuation and capitalization as in the original).
I appreciate the sentiments he's attempting to express. His belief is that works don't make a difference. From his Calvinist doctrinal window on the world, God predestines some people to be saved and others to be damned. He reads the Bible and sees that God has worked wonders in the lives and through the lives of flawed mortals--and finds reason to praise God for it. He believes God saves people by grace and not by their works in any fashion. Just for a moment, however, consider these biblical facts:
- Jacob, David, Elijah and Moses all SAW God, even though they were flawed mortals.
- Abraham, Moses, and David were polygamists and had multiple wives.
- We might also mention that Peter and Paul were arrested multiple times by corrupt earthly government officials who heard charges laid against them by religious bigots determined to stamp out what they considered a new, heretical religion.
- We can point out the biblical testimony that Moses, Elijah, Paul, and Peter all did miracles, despite the fact that they were flawed mortals.
- Moses wrote five books of scripture, including one that recorded the ancient knowledge of people who lived a few thousand years before his time.
- Despite their mortal weaknesses, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Elijah, David, Jonah, Peter, and Paul also heard the voice of God, communed with angels, had visions, dreams, revelations, etc.
- Peter brandished a weapon and chopped off the ear of one of the men who arrested Jesus, acting in self-defense and in defense of his Master.
- Peter, Thomas, and Paul were witnesses of the fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, even though they were imperfect, sinful, mortals.
Yet notice how the tide of Christian opinion turns when the individual in question is the Prophet Joseph Smith. Each of the things I listed above could be said about Joseph Smith. Like Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah, he saw God. He did have plural wives, just like Abraham, Moses, and David. Like Peter and Paul, Joseph was arrested repeatedly on trumped-up charges like “ecclesiastical perjury” that were dreamed up by religious bigots seeking to suppress a newly revealed religious "wine" that the "old bottles" of hollow orthodoxy could never contain. Like Paul, he was imprisoned for months without charges being filed against him. Like Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Paul, Joseph Smith did numerous miracles in the name of Christ. Numerous journals relate a marvelous outpouring of Joseph miraculously healing of dozens of people along the banks of the river near Nauvoo, Illinois. Noah, Jonah, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and others, Joseph heard the voice of God, received revelations, dreams, visions, and communed with angels. Similar to Moses, Joseph Smith wrote books of scripture, one of which contained the writings of people who lived a few thousand years before his time.
Joseph has been criticized by his enemies even for his martyrdom! Joseph was being held in protective custody for hearings related to the destruction of an anti-Mormon press that was inciting violence against latter-day saints. While residing in the jailer's apartment (not the jail's dungeon), a mob formed to storm the jail. The jailer knew the mob was coming and he actually gave his own pistol to Joseph Smith to protect him and his companions. One pistol against 200 armed men would not be sufficient, but it was more noble than to leave an unarmed man to the mob's bloodlust. Like Peter defended Jesus with a sword, Joseph used the pistol to protect the lives of his friends and companions in the jailer's upstairs apartment as the bullets came flying through the door and windows, in the face overwhelming numbers and outgunned.
One recent anti-Mormon commentator called the murder of Joseph Smith “justifiable lead poisoning” and another called it a “lynch mob performing its duty.” Joseph is constantly vilified by ignorant and unthinking bigots, called an adulterer, a pedophile, a con-man, a ne'er-do-well, a fraud, a lunatic, a deceiver, and more. When we hear these things, we are reminded of the words of Jesus to keep faith when people should speak evil of his disciples, persecute them, and despitefully use them.
Joseph Smith was not a perfect man, but he was no more flawed than any of the people mentioned in the list above. In fact, he seems to have been almost a composite of their various weaknesses and personal failings. Yet Christian believers are willing to set aside the perceived flaws of these biblical personages and celebrate the fact that God worked through them and saved them by his grace—and at the same time, they condemn Joseph Smith for his supposed “works.” After all, don't they say that a person's works don't count at all? Joseph Smith believed in Christ and testified of him. Shouldn't that be enough to save him, according to their doctrine?
This redefined double standard goes for rank and file latter-day saints as well. A man who was a staunch defender of the Church online was discovered to have written what might be termed “erotica” before his conversion to Mormonism. When he began to defend the Church in his writings on the Internet, anti-Mormons found this out and used the information to attempt to smear him. Had he been a “born again Christian” (by their definition), they would have had him on the 700 Club, singing praises to Jesus about how sinners can be redeemed. If the redeemed sinner is a Mormon, it somehow doesn't count.
Just let one crime involve a latter-day saint and our critics are quick to judge and gloat. A case-in-point was to be found on Free Republic just a couple of days ago when a notorious anti-Mormon on that site posted links to a story about a former BYU professor who's facing sex charges. Isn't it ironic that these “saved by grace alone” folks have their Jimmy Swaggarts, Ted Haggards, Jim Bakkers, and other famed preachers who fell into various sexual transgressions—but they're still believed to be saved because their works supposedly don't matter?
If the works matter, then the same standard needs to be applied to their own flock. If they works don't matter, then it is hypocritical for them to judge Mormons by a standard that is unfairly applied.
If it is true that God qualifies whom he calls to serve him, then God's judgment is the only one that really matters. It is the testimony of the latter-day saints that the Holy Ghost bears witness that Joseph Smith, a flawed mortal just like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and all the rest, was called of God. So long as they are willing to redefine grace and works to suit their own ends, our critics will never find the truth of the matter. When they do so fairly, they will “...shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider” (Isaiah 52:15) and the “vision of all” will come to them in the “words of a book that is sealed” (Isaiah 29:11).