WHY DO THEY DO IT?
Never mind the why or wherefore
William Schwenck Gilbert
What was Bell's purpose in writing Wives of the Prophet? The author is known to the writer only through the pages of this book, therefore it is not possible to make comparison with other of his literary productions or the range of subjects he may have addressed. But he has constructed an image of Joseph Smith as depraved, irreligious, dishonest, scheming, untrustworthy and imbued with low animal cunning; the very antithesis of prophet and holy man which his supporters claim him to be.
Is the year of publication significant? In the absence of firm evidence it is possible only to guess. The book was published in 1936. The following year was the centenary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' presence in Great Britain. In preparation for the centenary celebrations a gathering at Kidderminster in 1935 attracted 300 members which was an unusually large congregation for the Church at that period and one which attracted the attention of those suspicious of its motives.
The years 1935-1937 witnessed expansion into Church-owned property. A significant development for a movement that had rented meeting rooms for the previous 100 years. This would not have passed unnoticed by those uncomfortable with the Church's growth. These facts lend some support to the proposition that Bell's book was produced to counter the impact the Church was making in the run-up to its Centenary. Whether Wives of the Prophet was produced for such purposes, the simple fact of it being available at this time would have assured it a readership among 'concerned Christians' and would guarantee that some impressions from the book would stay with them.
Those impressions were such that they would revive half-forgotten memories and generate new, compelling, negative and false models of reality about Mormon religion. It is more than probable that it was written to combat the threat of a 'Mormon awakening'. But while we can only make an educated deduction for Bell's motivation other writers have been less reticent about their reasons for writing. Accepting that some feel a genuine concern for what they perceive as the "dangerous inroads" being made by the ever-growing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is nevertheless necessary to understand why they express that concern in terms of hatred and denigration. Walter R Martin wrote:
You may have heard the expression, "The cults are the unpaid bills of the church." though this statement does not tell the whole story, there is a great deal of truth in it. Cults have sometimes arisen because the established churches have failed to emphasize certain important aspects of religious life, or have neglected certain techniques...This is not to suggest that where the cults differ from the churches, the cults are invariable right and the churches are always wrong. One of the main purpose of this book will be to expose many the pernicious anti-Christian teachings which the cults are disseminating throughout the world today.
Anthony Hoekema's subscribes to the view that religions he describes as orthodox are being swamped by those religions he disparagingly refers to as "cults." He is overstating his case. Not many are willing to admit that their churches are failing their congregations as Hoekema does. The concerns he expresses indicate his failing nerve, and while he manfully accepts that traditional churches are not without fault he seeks remedy for that situation by attacking those who, he claims, have arisen primarily because of the failure of his own denomination.
Eryl Davies claims to have researched for sixteen years for his book and reveals the extent of his sixteen-year research by referring to the assistance he has received,
" ... by contact with organizations specializing in cult activity and teaching, especially Deo Gloria Outreach."
Horton Davies has some very unflattering things to say of cults in general, but these must be ignored. Only those remarks directed against the Mormonism concern us here. He did not go to the Latter-day Saints to discover the nature of the religion, but went instead to an organization hostile to them? Of the Latter-day Saint religion he says,
As if to mark the gauntlet which this American cult has thrown down to the stable and religiously conservative British people, the Mormons have recently built a vast modern temple it is not any kind of Temple!] in the metropolis, across the road from London's intellectual hub and mind, the South Kensington Science Museum. This new building with its gold-leafed spirelet, is a powerful symbol of aggressive sectarianism.
Davies sets "American" against "British", and feebly complains that Mormons have built a temple - it is a meetinghouse with chapel, activity hall, and offices- "across the road from London's intellectual hub and mind."
The meetinghouse, with which I ammore than passingly familiar, is across the road from South Kensington Post Office on Exhibition Road.
One wonders if his reaction would have been different had it been built elsewhere. The Science Museum is not far away and he obviously considers its proximity to be some kind of insult. But Davies is well off mark if he considers a museum to be the intellectual hub of London.
He also views Latter-day Saint missionary activity as an insult and challenge to the Church of England, thinly disguised as "the stable and religiously conservative British people."
His imagery, entirely the product of his imagination, concludes that the Latter-day Saint chapel is a "powerful symbol of aggressive sectarianism."
Those who view the somewhat conservative architecture of the Exhibition Road Mormon meetinghouse - it is not a Temple as he claims - will have to look at it very hard to justify Davies' description, since it is dwarfed by the older buildings which surround and abut it.
That portion of his book directed against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a rapid flit through the subject during which he misses important insights, and treats most subjects with a superficial and easy contempt. More satisfying and sanguine are his closing remarks wherein he speaks of
"...the interesting question as to whether there are any prospects for dialogue between Mormons and the historic Christian churches. The prospects would be bleak if it were thought that a precondition were to be any compromises on doctrine, or if the ranks of the Mormons considered that there was a plot to get them to become part of the World Council of Churches. The reason for the suspicion of ecumenism is that this is thought to be a scheme to make a church in which everyone will be forced to believe the same things. But if the primary purpose of dialogue is to create a better understanding across the present divide, which if maintained, can only breed further suspicion and misunderstanding, then such a dialogue is highly desirable. For mutual respect is greatly to be desired among Protestants, Catholics and Mormons."
It is to be regretted that he did not apply those sentiments when he was composing his diatribe.
In contrast to Davies crocodile tears, Walter Martin, who pretends to hold an earned doctoral degree, which he does not unless a few dollar certificat from a degree mill qualifies as an earned degree. He also pretended to be an ordained Baptist minister, which he was not, since he was never re-ordained after he was unfrocked for failing to adhere to the terms he agreed to when he was first ordained following his divorce for spousal abuse and cruelty, does not waste time. The jacket of his book proclaims
The rise of the cults is upon us with a vengeance!"
Martin's preface informs his readers, typically, that he holds a special position above all other Anti-Mormons, and anti-most-everything elses.
Since 1955, when this work first appeared, much theological water has gone under the bridge of history. The cults and the occult were even then surging toward their great growth and tidal wave of propaganda that today, 25 years later, crests high on the ramparts of the Christian church. Fortunately, by the grace of God, I was privileged to foresee that this deluge was coming, and I sought to warn the church that we must be prepared to meet and resist the rise of the cults and the occult, while never forgetting the task of evangelizing those caught within their webs of deception ... Unfortunately and to my sorrow, that warning went largely unheeded, and I was described as an "alarmist." The public was told that the cults were not outpacing the church. However, this was not the case, as any student of the last decade well knows. Today a virulent cultic and occultic revival is sweeping our country, dating from approximately 1965 much of the world has now begun to feel its powerful impact. But there is a ray of hope in this dark picture: the Lord has begun to arouse His people .... I have never regretted being right about anything quite so much in my entire life ... but the cults simply will not go away, and neither can they any longer be ignored or drowned in a sea of evasive rhetoric, statistics, or argument. The rise of the cults is upon us with a vengeance at home and on every major world mission field.
The nature of the problem facing anti-Mormon ministers like Martin is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is actually doing something and achieving something. That "something" is making a difference in the lives of its members by its successful Christian pastoralism. Even so, why anti-Mormon ministers see Mormonism as a threat to their own denomination is not easy to see since traditional Churches are stronger, operate in more countries, and have more real estate.
The majority of converts to Mormonism did belong to any specific church which is not the same as saying that they did not have a nominal religion. There have always been more of Horton Davies' "stable and religiously conservative" people in the population who never saw the inside of a church because they and the churches do not communicate. But why attack the Latter-day Saints for their own shortcomings and failures, or show jealous rage because of personal choices people make?
What is experienced by Latter-day Saints as enlightenment, increased spirituality and the road to salvation, is described by their enemies as brainwashing, deception and victimisation. They do not hesitate to add insult to injury by claiming that they themselves can "think for themselves," but that Mormons, who they speak of as "caught within the cults," are not able to think for themselves. It is a more complex version of "I'm clever and wise, and you're dull and stupid!" A better paradigm of arrogant pride is hard to find.
Mormons are constantly accused of being incompetent in matters of religion, faith and spirituality. It is argued that if the writer is correct in what he or she thinks, and they always assume that they are, then the Mormons must be wrong. It's just that simple. Having reached that conclusion they might be expected to sit back and relax. But it is not sufficient to merely point out "Mormon error," they set about to bring down the whole system by attacking the meaningful faith of millions exercise their consciences differently. The controversies are always about differences from the arbitrary normative values determined by the controversialist.
The claims that Mormons are "in bondage" and "held captive" by "webs of deceit," or that they are "duped" by leaders smarter or more cunning than them, is held to be sufficient proof of deviation from orthodox norm to justify attacks by purist Christians, whose thought, conduct, and practice are aligned with the norm. Accusations of bondage, captivity, deceit, duping and deviation made against Latter-day Saints is taken as proof that they are "harmful", and this understanding of Mormons as harmful justifies extreme activity being taken against them.
The invective used by anti-Mormon ministries would not be out of place in a Roman amphitheatre where men and women were thrown to the lions or torn apart by other wild beasts simply because they were Christians. Or in a Nazi gas-chamber where innocent people were put to death because they were racially "unorthodox."
Hatred directed towards Latter-day Saints is often intense: even those claiming to act out of love for their "Mormon friends" cross the line that isolates friendship and love from enmity and hate.
Why do other denominations criticize the Mormon Church? One answer is:
It should be sufficient to reply that many criticize your church because it was founded on the conviction that all other churches were false, apostate .... I am sure that you can understand that for churches or individuals to be critical of Mormonism is not unwarranted, for they are only defending what they believe to be true against a clear attack.
Not for Gruss the teaching of Jesus.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.
This has been the Mormon response for many years. Why has no one ever thought of loving their enemies, or those they consider to be their enemies? Careful reading of the charges levelled against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints and its members reveals that the accusers are indulging in a theology of difference.
If Latter-day Saints are different, they argue, they must be wrong, and must be attacked. The language used by the adversaries is not the language of Christianity, but the language of a deadly and final warfare.