OVERSOLD BELIEVERS: THE PSYCHOLOGICAL TACTICS THAT GROW AND PRESERVE AMERICAN CULTS

Religious Marketing in a Land of Opportunity

Before British journalist Christopher Hitchens would ever become known as one of the “Four Horseman”[1] of the New Atheism movement, he was an award-winning, widely-read, globe-trotting journalist.  In a 1997 interview with The Progressive, the well-traveled Hitchens was asked why he chose to make his home in the United States.  He answered, “The first thing I can remember I ever wanted was to go to the United States. And for reasons that are as conventional as you can imagine: I wanted to know if it was really true that it was the land of opportunity, of democracy, and individual liberty. My conclusion was that, at least as compared to the ancien regime under which I had been brought up, it was.”[2]  Hitchens eventually became an American citizen and exercised the individual liberty afforded to him by his new country (along with its free market) to author and promote his best-selling[3] book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  Hitchens, a vociferous and virulent critic of religion, promoted his book by touring the United States from coast to coast seeking to debate religious leaders about the soundness of his atheistic argument that religion “poisons everything”.  He did not lack willing debate opponents anywhere he went.

Nearly 80% of Americans identify as adherents of a certain religion.[4]   Almost all of these religions were imported from the Old World.  However, some of them are uniquely American.  The free exercise of religion guaranteed by the United States Constitution has, since 1789, allowed ample opportunity for not only the practice of religion but the invention and promotion of it as well.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon sect) was founded in the United States in 1830 by New York native Joseph Smith.[5]  The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (commonly known as the Jehovah’s Witness sect) was founded in 1870 by Charles Taze Russell.[6]  US Navy veteran L. Ron Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology in 1953.[7]   In totalitarian societies, such as those from which the very first non-native settlers of the American continent fled, these three sects would have likely been banned by law and quashed shortly after their founding.  However, in the land of opportunity, they have been allowed to thrive.

The convergence of the free market with freedom of religion has made it easy for religious organizations to grow on the American continent.  As religious organizations seek growth, they take part in what sociologist George Ritzer has termed “The McDonaldization of Society” which he defined as “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming home to dominate more and more sectors of American society and the rest of the world.”[8] “Churches unintentionally pick up on the ideas of McDonaldization through leadership magazines, conferences, and books that teach how churches can engage more of the American culture through certain structural, communications, and ministry models.”[9]  One of these models is brand marketing and, often times, it is picked up on quite purposefully.  Marketing strategy has come to be taught in seminary courses.  One seminary course text[10], Pastor’s Handbook, advises church leaders to emulate the practices of McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Disney World.[11]  The successful execution of church marketing is perhaps why religious activity has turned into one of the largest sectors of the American economy.

According to the authors of a study entitled “The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis” and published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research, their most conservative estimate of the revenue of faith based-organizations is “$378 billion annually – or more than a third of a trillion dollars…more than the global annual revenues of tech giants Apple and Microsoft combined.”[12]  Their least conservative estimate places “the value of faith to U.S. society at $4.8 trillion annually, or the equivalent of nearly a third of America’s gross domestic product.”[13]  These figures are staggering, especially when it is considered that religious activity is an unregulated sector of the economy.  The American economy, though fairly considered “free,” is not without regulation.  Massive corporations such as Apple and Microsoft as well as smaller, less influential businesses are regulated by powerful federal, state, and local government agencies which are tasked with protecting American consumers and investors.  Examples of such agencies, which regulate diverse sectors of the American economy, include the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and the United States Department of Agriculture.  Additionally various medical licensing boards protect patients from being taken advantage of by abusive or incompetent doctors and therapists. The missions of these various organizations fall in line with a biblical understanding of civil government.[14]  They are “avengers who bring wrath on the one who practices evil.”[15]

The Mission of the Federal Trade Commission and similar agencies can be summed up very simply: they exist to prevent and eliminate “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” [16] committed by nefarious and unscrupulous actors looking to turn a profit in the marketplace.  If a business becomes monopolistic or colludes with major competitors to corner the market, it is broken up by government “trust-busters”.[17]  If a business engages in an unfair marketing practice, such as a “bait-and-switch”, it subject to reprisal from a government authority.  However, if a religious organization becomes monopolistic[18] or engages in such a psychological marketing trick (as long as it’s not selling a guaranteed material good), it is insulated from prosecution.  Religious organizations can, quite frankly, lie to and psychologically manipulate their patrons in order perpetuate themselves numerically and financially.  Ironically, the very same religious and personal liberty that allowed Christopher Hitches to publish and promote a book about how religion “poisons everything” allows certain religious organizations to poison everything.

Of course, Hitchens and the rest of his New Atheist cohorts are incorrect to assert that “religion” poisons everything.  As atheists, they are committed to the idea that all religions are false.  If it is the case that all religions are false then the leaders and adherents of religions are either under delusion or, even worse, knowingly manipulating people to into believing lifestyle-effecting lies, often in the course of supporting themselves financially or procuring for themselves some degree of cultural influence.  However, it is not the case that all religions are false.  God exists and, furthermore, He has revealed how religious activities should be carried out in the pages of the Bible, which He inspired.[19]  According to God’s word, true and acceptable religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”[20]  The antithesis of true religion is, in the course of seeking after the things of the world, taking advantage of the poor and ignorant, especially while making a tidy profit.[21]  Thus, in the absence of government regulation of religious practice (which historically, has been shown to be ill-advised and disastrous), it is up to God’s true church to expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness[22] perpetrated by the proprietors of false religion.

American society is full of religious organizations that defy God’s definition of true religion and blaspheme Him by disseminating unbiblical teachings about His natureHisJhhh hgg.  In an economy where taking unfair advantage of people is strictly prohibited in every sector but one, nefarious and unscrupulous actors looking to turn a profit are most likely to drift to that particular sector.  In America, that sector is religion.  While it may be true that the leaders of seeker-sensitive, market-driven Christian churches are in some way motivated by profit, the orthodox Trinitarian Christian theology which they hold to and promote may insulate their parishioners from eternal damnation.  In other words, someone (though he may be sorely lacking in discipleship) might actually come to saving faith through the gospel as presented by a McDonaldized Willow Creek, Purpose-Driven, or Andy Stanley church. Though neither is regulated in the American society, there is a difference between a huckster with the biblical gospel and a huckster with a false one.[23]  Examples of the latter type of huckster arguably include Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, and L. Ron Hubbard.  Though they died long ago, these men founded cults that are today still operating successfully and drawing new converts.  Using psychological manipulation techniques and marketing tactics that profited-motivated businesses are prevented from unfairly implementing, these cults and other like them, control the minds and lives of millions of Americans.

By properly applying scripture, Christians can expose and critique the unbiblical and eternally damnable beliefs perpetrated by these cults.  Since men inherently lack the divine ability to see into the hearts and minds of others, there is no guaranteed way to determine which cult leaders and members are hucksters who know they are perpetrating a lie and which cult leaders are genuinely deceived (or even demon-possessed).  The Bible provides revelation from God which can be trusted to expose the false teachings of cults, regardless of the unknown internal motivations and mindsets of cultic false teachers.  Unfortunately, cult-members are often so brainwashed and conditioned by their cults that they are unable to see the way that their religious leaders have twisted and misapplied religious texts, especially the Bible, to gain control over their lives.  They may refuse to listen to biblical correction altogether.  Thus, another method of exposing damaging cult practices to deceived cult members may be useful: exposing the psychological tactics of cults.  No one likes to be ripped off or manipulated to their own disadvantage, even a cult member.  Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Scientologists can appreciate the type of work done by the Federal Trade Commission and consumer watchdog groups as much as atheists and Christians can.  Thus, Christians have the opportunity to identify the psychological tricks used by cults and inform cult members of the various ways of which they are being taken advantage.  Cult members, especially those who are savvy businessmen, having their eyes opened to the manipulative nature of their cults, will be empowered to abandon them.  The religious vacuum created in their lives can then be filled by a biblical Christian witness.  There are many examples of psychological manipulation being implemented by American cults.  By examining some of these examples, Christians can be prepared to engage in the practice of cult-busting as a part of the overall process of proclaiming the biblical gospel.

Escalation of Commitment – The Sunk Costs of Life in a Cult

Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons, because of the way their cults operate, are prone to engage in the practice of Escalation of Commitment.  Escalation of Commitment is defined as the “’persistence in a losing course of action by a decision-maker’.  It is marked by the continuing investment of resources (e.g. time, money) despite negative feedback about a previous decision.”[24]  For a decision to be considered Escalation of Commitment it must involve “(1) a previous loss; (2) the option to either continue or withdraw from the decision situation; and (3) uncertain consequences of making the decision to continue or withdraw.”[25]  Perhaps the simplest and most relatable example of Escalation of Commitment is a moviegoer who buys a ticket to a really bad two-hour movie.  After one hour of not enjoying the movie, rather than walking out, the moviegoer stays in his seat and finishes watching the film.  Leaving at the halfway point would force the moviegoer to admit that he wasted his ticket money.  Instead of leaving and preserving for alternate use the remaining hour of his day, he holds out hope that the movie might get better.  It doesn’t and he wastes another hour watching the movie until its end.  With each passing second of the bad movie, the commitment of the moviegoer to a doomed endeavor (watching a bad movie when his intention was to enjoy a good movie) escalates.  Wasted time and money on a movie ticket does not amount to much in the course of one’s life.  However, the cost of a single movie ticket pales in comparison to much larger losses than can be incurred by the same flawed thinking.  Consider the case of an investor who purchases a block of stock for $10,000.  After a period of months the value of his investment plummets to $5,000.  Market analysis indicates that the company in which he owns stock is likely to go out of business.  Rather than admit his error, sell the stock, and recoup $5,000 of his investment for alternative use, the investor keeps his stock until it is worthless.  Such irrational behavior is not limited to individuals.  Large organizations and their managers also engage in Escalation of Commitment when they refuse to abandon large-scale multi-million dollar projects that show little indication of future success.  According a 1987 article in Harvard Business Review entitled “Knowing When to Pull the Plug”, “…all managers will make some mistakes and stick with some decisions longer than they ought to. Recent research has shown, however, that the tendency to pursue a failing course of action is not a random thing. Indeed, at times some managers, and even entire organizations, seem almost programmed to follow a dying cause.” [26]  No one makes the choice to enter into a course of action, whether it is a relatively unimportant or life-changing one, unless he thinks he is making the right decision.  Yet even highly-compensated business executives are hesitant to admit failure when it becomes apparent.  “Research has also shown…that executives fail to recognize when a project is beyond hope. People have an almost uncanny ability to see only what accords with their beliefs. Much like sports fans who concentrate on their own team’s great plays and the other team’s fouls, managers tend to see only what confirms their preferences. For example, an executive who is convinced that a project will be profitable will probably slant estimates of sales and costs to support the view. If the facts challenge this opinion, the manager may work hard to find reasons to discredit the source of information or the quality of the data. And if the data are ambiguous, the manager may seize on just those facts that support the opinion. Thus information biasing can be a major roadblock to sensible withdrawal from losing courses of action…In addition to the effects of rewards and biased information, (an additional)  psychological mechanism may be at work. Sometimes even when managers recognize that they have suffered losses, they may choose to invest further resources in a project rather than accept failure. What may be fostering escalation in these cases is a need for self-justification.”[27]  In the process of commitment escalation, decision makers demonstrate undue attachment to “sunk costs,” which are defined as “costs that have already been incurred and thus cannot be recovered.”[28]  Because of their desire for self-justification they do not wish to admit that the sunk costs which they have occurred have been wasted.  The type of thinking present in Escalation of Commitment, which causes individuals to continue with bad consumer choices and businesses to continue with doomed investments projects, is the same type of thinking that helps cults retain members.  Where cult members begin to doubt their religious choices, Escalation of Commitment keeps them from leaving their cult.

The religious practice of The Church of Scientology provides what is perhaps the best example of Escalation of Commitment in religious life.  According to the doctrine of scientology, “every person has two minds – the analytical mind and the reactive mind.”[29]  The reactive mind is the “single source of human aberrations and psychosomatic ills.”[30]  The purpose of practicing Scientology is to rid one’s self of the reactive mind, thus entering in to a superior state of consciousness, known in Scientology as “going clear”.  The reactive mind is removed though the process of auditing.  Auditing sessions are offered by the Church of Scientology for a fee.  As a Scientologist progresses in his religious practice, paying for auditing session after auditing session, he learns more and more about the very secretive religious beliefs of Scientology.  A practitioner of scientology begins with the status of “preclear.”  After a Scientologist has “gone clear” through the auditing process he can receive the status of “Operating Thetan”.  However, his potential for progression does not end at that point; there are different levels of Operating Thetan status which can be achieved, up to level eight.  To achieve these various levels one must continue paying for auditing sessions.  At Operating Thetan Level Three, the Scientologist is entrusted with the secretive story of how the reactive mind came to wreak havoc on the human psyche.  According to the doctrine of scientology, millions of years ago an intergalactic overlord named Xenu was dealing with overpopulation in his empire.  To solve his problem, he transported a multitude of frozen people to earth in space planes. Once there, the frozen people were dumped into volcanoes and obliterated by atomic bombs.  As their souls floated up into the atmosphere, they were caught by soul-catching devices that Xenu had placed there in anticipation.  These souls were then brainwashed by Xenu and trapped on earth.  As humankind evolved from early primates, these souls or “thetans” inhabited their minds.  Even today, when a child is born, one or more thetans leap into his body, essentially becoming his soul.  The reactive mind is a result of the bad experiences of these thetans in their past lives.  Once a human “goes clear” as a sufficiently leveled Operating Thetan, he can control matter, energy space, and time. [31]  The cost of the auditing sessions necessary to obtain this plainly ludicrous explanation of humanity’s problems[32] is estimated to be between $200,000 and $400,000.[33]  The amount of money and time spent to obtain Operating Thetan Level Three is perhaps the ultimate religious sunk cost.  Admitting the colossal mistake that one has progressively wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and worked thousands of man-hours to obtain a “clear state” in a religion that is plainly as made up as a bad science fiction novel takes a Herculean psychological effort.  Furthermore, the discrediting of critical sources is a key tactic of Scientology’s leadership.  Critics of Scientology deemed “suppressive persons” by the church are essentially shunned by church members.  Furthermore, suppressive persons can be maligned under Scientology’s “fair game” doctrine.[34]  The maligning of the character of former Scientologists is easily enabled by the auditing practice, as church members often admit embarrassing facts about themselves in order to facilitate the process of going clear.  The Scientologist who considers leaving his religion faces losing friends, family, reputation, and any perceived progress in attaining a higher state of consciousness.[35]

The structure of the Jehovah’s Witness religion also leaves its members susceptible to Escalation of Commitment.  Unlike Scientology, this religion is not a “pay to play” faith where adherents are expected to pay their church for spiritual services.  However, like Scientology, this religion teaches a form of works righteousness (or self-justification), requires a significant investment of personal time, and exhorts enormous influence over personal, professional, home, and family life.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known for their house-to-house proselytizing.  Each Jehovah’s Witnesses is considered a “publisher” [36]  by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.[37] Publishers are required to turn in a periodic “time report” to the elders of their local congregation which detail their witnessing activities.  “This report is put on their file. There are secret files kept on all Jehovah’s Witnesses which are only viewed by the elders. If a Jehovah’s Witness refuses to turn in a time report, they are disciplined and put on list called ‘irregular publisher.’ The individual will be on this black list until they again turn in regular reports.”[38]  A convert to the Jehovah’s Witness faith “eagerly attends five meetings a week and spends at least ten hours a month knocking on doors and witnessing to people….if the JW is male and has not dropped out (of publishing) he has the opportunity to progress through the ranks publisher, servant, and perhaps even elder (a member of the congregation’s governing board).”[39]  If a Jehovah’s Witness spends seventy hours a month in preaching work, he attains the level of “Pioneer”.  One can become a “Special Pioneer” by devoting one hundred thirty hours or more to ministry each month. [40]  In a way similar to how Scientology confers “Operating Thetan” levels to practitioners who have earned them, the Watch Tower confers prestigious levels of achievement on its dedicated members.  Any member who begins to doubt the teaching of the Watch Tower or consider the troubling the nature of its well-documented doctrinal flip flops, is faced with Escalation of Commitment; admitting that the Jehovah’s Witness faith is a false one also means admitting that he has wasted countless hours pounding the pavement sharing the faith, all his kingdom work has been for naught, and his earned status in the organization is meaningless.  Further complicating matters is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are discouraged from reading “apostate” literature (i.e. literature that is critical of the Watch Tower).  So a Jehovah’s Witness is already conditioned to trust the Watch Tower and doubt its detractors.  Former Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered apostates.  “Apostates are the most despicable people on the face of the earth, Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught, with the result that a Witness would much rather encounter someone expelled from the sect for theft or adultery than find himself face-to-face with an apostate. The Watchtower tells them that they ‘must hate’ apostates and that they must not be ‘curious about apostate ideas.’ Therefore, any information that may come from an apostate source can be dismissed without even listening to it.”[41]  The Watch Tower, though Escalation of Commitment, sets its members up for failure.  They are conditioned to doubt negative information about the Watch Tower, trust their own biased information, and fear losing their personal investment in self-justification.

The Mormon faith is also set up to capitalize on Escalation of Commitment.  “Mormonism’s leaders believe that their organization, which was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, has God’s complete authority, unlike any other institution on the face of the earth.”[42]  “This authority comes through the LDS priesthood. There are two divisions of the priesthood: the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, both of which are held only by males. The Aaronic priesthood is known as the ‘lesser’ priesthood and is made up of deacons (12 years old), teachers (14 years old), priests (16 years old), and bishops (the leader of local bodies of LDS believers). Meanwhile, the Melchizedek priesthood is named after the priest mentioned in Genesis 14…The offices in this (priesthood) branch are elders, high priests, patriarchs, seventies, and apostles.”[43]  Faithful Mormon males between the ages of 18 and 25 are expected to participate in a two-year long mission trip[44] as a part of their priesthood duty.[45]  Upon entering the Mormon mission field, the title of “elder” is conferred upon a young man.  As is the case with Scientology and the Watch Tower, the Mormon Church confers exclusive and prestigious titles upon its members.  In the case of Mormonism, these titles are conferred upon men who are still in their formative years. Mormons must earn the right to enter their religious temples through clean living.  Only those Mormons who support church leadership, are morally clean, pay a full tithe, live in harmony with the church, and do not sympathize with apostate groups earn a temple recommendation.[46]  Inside of the temple is where Mormon marriage ceremonies are performed; only those church members with a temple recommendation can attend these ceremonies.  Husbands and wives who are sealed in a Mormon temple marriage are taught that they have the opportunity to become gods and goddesses of their own planet.  Without a celestial marriage, a Mormon cannot become a god and continue his family into eternity.[47]  Furthermore, if a Mormon’s spouse leaves the Mormon faith, he cannot stay married to her and still become a god.[48]  As is the case with the priesthood, Mormon marriage commitments are typically foisted upon relatively young people.[49]  As Mormons mature and learn more about their religion, there is good reason that they should doubt what they have been taught.  The Mormon creation myth is every bit as fantastical and intergalactic as that of Scientology.  The Book or Mormon is not supported by any extant archaeological evidence.  The character of Joseph Smith was dubious at best.  As with L. Ron Hubbard, the historical record outside of his own cult paints him as a cad.  Maturing Mormons who are tempted to leave their faith face admitting that their priesthood titles and celestial marriage commitments are fanciful fabrications and that the work they performed for the salvation of themselves and others will not pay off.  Adults who decide to leave the faith must admit that they wasted two years of their life on a Mormon mission.  As it the case with the Jehovah’s Witness and Scientology cults, members of the LDS church are conditioned to look at their own biases with rose-colored glasses while dismissing detractors as apostates.  Escalation of Commitment exerts heavy pressure on Mormons to remain Mormon in the face of ample evidence that their religion and its founding prophet are counterfeit; their sunk costs are heavy.

The Consistency Trap – Mandated Testimony of Falsehoods

From small American beginnings, the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness religions have spread all over the world.  The Mormon Church estimates its worldwide membership at 15,634,199.[50]  Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate their worldwide number to be 8,220,105.[51]  These numbers are impressive, considering that neither religion is yet two hundred years old and that both began with only a handful of adherents.  However, these numbers are not surprising.  Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are known as the some of the most prolific proselytizers of any faith.  Every Jehovah’s Witness is expected to be a “publisher” who turns in witnessing reports.  The mandate of the Mormon Church is “every member is a missionary.”[52]  Because proselytizing is formally required by these cults (not just expected as in other religions), its members are susceptible to falling into what is known as a “consistency trap”.  (Ironically, they may try to use such a trap themselves in order to make converts).  G. Richard Sell, a professor of Business Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton College of Business, explains the use of consistency traps as follows: “Skilled negotiators know about the human need to appear consistent and try to use it as often as they can.  Truly manipulative people go beyond identifying their counterparts’ standard for positioning purposes and try to trick their opponents by using what I call consistency traps.  The goal of a consistency trap is to precommit you to a seemingly innocent standard and then confront you with the logical implications of the standard in a particular case – implications that actually turn out to run against your interests.  This is a form of intellectual coercion.”[53]  The consistency trap can be a marketer’s best friend.  They can also be useful for cults.

Testimonial write-in contests, which are typical of consumer product marketers, provide an excellent example of a constancy trap in action.  A typical contest resembles the following: The producers of Parkay Butter offer $5,000 to the consumer who writes in the best testimonial explaining why she “only uses Parkay Butter on her table.”  Not only will the winner receive the cash prize; her testimonial will be printed on Parkay’s butter packages.  Thousands of submissions are sent to Parkay.  For the cost of $5,000 to one winner, Parkay gains the business of every contest participant (to whom they paid nothing).  Each losing contestant submitted a testimony saying that she would “only use Parkay Butter on her table.”  Her own words, even though no one outside of Parkay will ever see them, will convict her in her own mind every time she is on the dairy aisle of the grocery store and thinks of reaching for a different brand of butter.  At the same time, almost no one is expected to begin buying Parkay butter because of the testimony of some stranger that is written on the package.  The purpose of the contest all along was to seal the participants in a consistency trap, not reach new customers.[54]  The proselytizing of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses provides the same benefit to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, respectively.

Mormon Missionaries and Jehovah’s Witness publishers fail to gain a new convert much more often than they successfully win one.  Each time a Mormon Missionary or Jehovah’s Witness intentionally shares the teaching of his cult, he reaffirms that teaching and his dedication to his church in his own mind.  It is the practice of Mormons to share their testimonies[55] before their church.  Without doing so, a Mormon cannot participate in temple ceremonies.  “A Mormon testimony consists of being able to say, unequivocally, ‘I know the LDS Church is true and that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God.’”[56]  In order to reject Mormonism, a Mormon must admit that he dedicated two years of his life on a mission trying to convince other people that a lie was the truth.  A generational Mormon must admit that he passed this lie on to his own children and encouraged them to go on missions of their own.  He must admit that every time he said “The Holy Spirit revealed to me that the Book of Mormon is true,” that he was deceived.[57]  He must admit that he gave a false testimony to his church about what he said he “knew”.  Similarly, in order to reject the Watch Tower, a Jehovah’s Witnesses must admit that he spent countless hours going to countless houses, knocking on countless doors, and trying to convince countless people to believe a false gospel.[58]  The Mormon and Watchtower cults, like marketers selling butter with a testimonial contest, condition their members to stay consistent with their doctrine through mandated and repeated personal testimonies.  In order to admit that Joseph Smith was a liar, the Mormon has to admit that he is a liar himself.  In order to admit that the Watch Tower is a false prophet, the Jehovah’s Witness must admit that he is a false prophet himself.  These cults have set up a systematic consistency trap.  Their leaders arguably understand the old axiom of business: “It is usually far cheaper to retain existing customers than it is to find new ones.”[59]

Bait and Switch – What the Cultist at the Door Doesn’t Share

Without any documentation from cult leadership to confirm, it’s impossible to definitively claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Watchtower Bible or Tract Society intentionally use consistency traps to retain members.  However, there is a psychological manipulation tactic that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly use to gain converts; the bait-and-switch.  “The term bait-and-switch is most commonly used to refer to an advertising practice that is both unethical and illegal…It typically involves an advertiser luring customers into the store by advertising a product at an unrealistically low price (the bait).  The customer is then told that the advertised goods are (1) not available or (2) of inferior quality and/or not suitable for the customer’s needs.  The goal is to “switch” the customer to another, more expensive product or one that has a higher profit margin.  What sets bait-and-switch apart from other advertising practices is that the store does not intend to sell the advertised product – the advertised product is intended to attract customers, who are then persuaded to buy another product.”[60]

When Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on a door, they are often not entirely honest about the full requirements of their religion to the person who answers it.  “Dangerous cults don’t reveal all of their strange doctrines when they try to recruit new members.  For a Jehovah’s Witness to start his recruitment effort by saying, ‘Join us; if your child ever needs a blood transfusion you have to let him die’ or ‘Join us; our kids will have to give up sports and Christmas’ would be a deal-breaker.  Usually the Jehovah’s Witnesses approach people with more orthodox teachings – beliefs that are shared with other religious groups….As the prospect becomes more interested and more committed to the cult, the leaders gradually introduce the more bizarre doctrines.  The initiate is not allowed to know the inner secrets until he is fully indoctrinated.”[61]  Jehovah’s Witnesses (themselves a sub-Christian cult) typically operate within culturally Christian communities; they “bait” prospects with generically orthodox Christian teachings as they initiate regular Bible-study with them.  Then, once the commitment of a prospect has escalated, Jehovah’s Witnesses “switch” to teaching the heretical, controversial tenets of their cult.  Mormons do this as well.  Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are a sub-Christian cult that typically operates in culturally Christian areas.  Mormon missionaries approach prospects with generic Christian language.  They refer to Jesus as “savior” and to “the Godhead”.  However, the Jesus to which they refer is not the Jesus of orthodox Christianity but a created spirit-being from Kolob.  The Godhead to which they refer is not the Triune God of orthodox Christianity but “Three gods— God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost— who, while distinct in being, are one in purpose.”[62]  Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons hide the heretical, controversial tenets of their cult.  Mormon missionaries are not supposed to tell prospects and new converts about “deep doctrine” because it often scares off new members.  Such “deep doctrine” includes the notions that there is a heavenly mother, that Mormons can become gods, and that those Mormons who don’t pay their tithes could die in by falling fire.[63]  Deep doctrines come later, after commitment has escalated.  Scientologists arguably participate in bait-and-switch tactics as well.  Prospective scientologists are enticed with the idea that L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics” methodology can improve their psychological state.  It is only at Operating Thetan Level Thee that they are informed of Scientology’s space opera creation myth.

Christians and Consumer Advocacy

At the most basic level, lost is lost.  Whether someone is an atheist, a non-religious theist, or a cult member, his biggest problem is that he doesn’t know Jesus and his biggest need is the gospel.  The gospel, that Christ died for humanity’s sins and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,[64] is the same for every person no matter his background.  Still special care can be taken to approach non-Christians in accordance with their backgrounds and personal situations.  Cultists, like all nonbelievers, are separated from God by their sin.  However, they are additionally insulated from and prejudiced toward biblical truth by the doctrinal perversion and mind control perpetrated by their cult.  This is a wall that needs to be broken down.  If a Christian attempts to break that wall by showing the cultist that he has been, as it were, sold a bill of goods, the Christian needs to ensure that the cultist knows that he isn’t just trying to sell him Christianity as a replacement product.

The Christian needs to present himself as someone who is there to help the cultist in the same way consumer advocates and government agencies are there to help consumers who have been ripped off.  In today’s Christian culture, this can be a difficult thing to do.  Perry Noble, the former pastor the largest Southern Baptist Church in the World[65] was removed from his office in July of 2016 for the abuse of alcohol.  His ministry comeback endeavor is church growth consulting.  In advertising his services, Noble stated, “Some may argue the church is not a business – I would disagree.  After all, at one point in serving as the Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church I was responsible for 425 employees and a $63,000,000 budget – which takes way more than a prayer meeting to manage!”[66]  Christianity is not a transactional religion and Christ’s church is not a storefront.  Methodological success and millions of dollars in revenue do not make a religious organization successful before the Lord.  Cultists who have spent their lives in works-based, self-justifying religions must be able to see that Christian salvation comes by God’s grace alone.  Cultists who have been trying to work their way to God need to be told, “It’s not by doing good deeds. You can’t work your way in. You do not have the ability to produce the things that only God can do in your life…. You can’t, and God never said you could. But He can, and He always said He would.”[67]  The Christian life is not for sale; salvation is free a gift of God.  Success in the Christian life comes by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.  No gimmicks and manipulations are needed.

The Christian should be wary when exposing the psychological tactics cults use to cult members.  His audience might not be a deceived, ignorant, and innocent victim but a willing perpetrator of psychological manipulation and business-like marketing.  An iconic 1997 edition of Time Magazine featured the phrase “Mormons Inc” superimposed over a picture of the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple.  An article inside of the magazine revealed that the Latter Day Saints were some of the world’s savviest businesspeople.  Its writer reported, “…the Latter-day Saints employ vast amounts of money in investments that TIME estimates to be at least $6 billion strong. Even more unusual, most of this money is not in bonds or stock in other peoples’ companies but is invested directly in church-owned, for-profit concerns, the largest of which are in agribusiness, media, insurance, travel and real estate. Deseret Management Corp., the company through which the church holds almost all its commercial assets, is one of the largest owners of farm and ranchland in the country, including 49 for-profit parcels in addition to the Deseret Ranch. Besides the Bonneville International chain and Beneficial Life, the church owns a 52% holding in ZCMI, Utah’s largest department-store chain.  All told, TIME estimates that the Latter-day Saints farmland and financial investments total some $11 billion, and that the church’s nontithe income from its investments exceeds $600 million.”[68]  The Mormons are not novices when it comes to growing businesses or religions.  Neither or Scientologists; their religion counts among its adherents some of the film industry’s most influential power brokers.  Their mindsets should be juxtaposed against that of Jesus.  L. Ron Hubbard, a writer of pulp fiction before he founded his religion, is famously credited with saying, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”[69]  Jesus Christ, who died the death or a poor man and didn’t so much as have a place to lay his head[70] said, “I will build my church.”[71]  He did just that, without marketing, manipulation, or mind control.  The same cannot be said of the American cults.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Bibliography

Abramsky, Sasha. “Christopher Hitchens Interview.” The Progressive. December 16, 1997. http://www.progressive.org/christopher_hitchens_1997_progressive_interview.html (accessed November 13, 2016).

Barber, Wayne. “Ephesians 1:18-20 by Wayne Barber.” PreceptAustin.Org. August 01, 2016. http://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_118-20_by_wayne_barber (accessed November 28, 2016).

Barker, Jason. “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.” Watchman Fellowship. 2011. http://www.watchman.org/profiles/pdf/watchtowerprofile.pdf (accessed November 16, 2016).

Bisagno, John. Pastor’s Handbook. B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Branch, Craig. “Church of Scientology: A Religious Mafia?” Watchman Fellowship. http://www.watchman.org/articles/scientology/church-of-scientology-a-religious-mafia/ (accessed November 27, 2016).

Branch, Rich. “Church of Scientolgy .” Watchman Fellowship. 1994. http://www.watchman.org/profiles/pdf/scientologyprofile.pdf (accessed November 16, 2106).

Dunn, Seth. “A Doctrinal Overview of the Watch Tower.” Seth Dunn – A Chrisitan Worldview. November 09, 2016. https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/a-doctrinal-overview-of-the-watch-tower/ (accessed November 28, 2016).

—. “An Interview with a Former Mormon.” Seth Dunn – A Christian Worldview. November 25, 2016. https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/an-interview-with-a-former-mormon/ (accessed November 28, 2016).

Evangelical Philosophical Society. “Interview with Paul Copan: Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?” Evangelical Philosophical Society. April 7, 2008. http://blog.epsociety.org/2008/04/interview-with-paul-copan-is-yahweh.asp (accessed November 13, 2016).

Federal Trade Commission . “The Antitrust Laws.” Federal Trade Commission. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-antitrust-laws/antitrust-laws (accessed November 19, 2016).

Fisher, Josie. Bait-And-Switch Practices. Vol. 1, in Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society, edited by Robert W. Kolb. Sage Publications, 2008.

Grim, Brian J and Melissa E. Grim. “The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 2016.

Hayes, Jenny and Frances Dredge. Managing Customer Service. Gower Publishing Limited, 1998.

Hewitt, Joe B. Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower. Garland, TX: Hannibal Books, 2011.

Hitchens, Christopher. “God Bless Me, It’s a Best-Seller!” Vanity Fair. September 2007. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/09/hitchens200709 (accessed November 16, 2016).

Horn, Marianna L. “The downside of persistence: The effects of mood on an escalation of commitment paradigm.” A thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Auburn University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science, 2012.

http://www.watchthetower.net/. “Tools of the Trade.” http://www.watchthetower.net/. http://www.watchthetower.net/tools1 (accessed November 28, 2016).

Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Facts and Statistics.” Newsroom. September 01, 2016. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics (accessed September 18, 2016).

—. “Preparing to Serve.” http://www.lds.org. March 18, 2016. https://www.lds.org/callings/missionary/faqs?lang=eng#4 (accessed November 28, 2016).

Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Missionary Program.” Newsroom. 2016. https://www.lds.org/callings/missionary/faqs?lang=eng#4 (accessed November 28, 2016).

Investopedia. “Sunk Cost.” Investopedia. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sunkcost.asp?lgl=no-infinite (accessed November 27, 2016).

LifeWay Christian Resources. “SBC 500.” ThomRainer.com. 2016. http://thomrainer.com/sbc500/ (accessed November 28, 2016).

McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Revised and Expanded ed. Baker Books, 2015.

Naylor, Carma. A Mormon’s Unexpected Journey: Finding the Grace I Never Knew. Vol. 1. Enumclaw, MA: Winpress Publishing, 2006.

Noble, Perry. “My Next Step.” PerryNoble.com. November 28, 2016. https://perrynoble.com/blog/my-next-step (accessed November 28, 2016).

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Directed by Alex Gibney. Produced by HBO Documentary Films. Performed by Jason Beghe, Spanky Taylor Paul Haggis. 2015.

Pew Research Center. “Religious Landscape Study.” Pew Research Center. 2016. http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/ (accessed November 11, 2016).

Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011.

Shell, G. Richard. Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People. Penguin Books, 2006.

Stack, Peggy Fletcher. “Mormon guys delay marriage in paralyzing hunt for perfect wife.” USA Today. April 21, 2011. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-04-22-mormon_dating_21_ST_N.htm (accessed November 28, 2016).

Staw, Barry M and Jerry Ross. “Knowing When to Pull the Plug.” Harvard Business Review, 1987.

Trapped in the Closet. Directed by Trey Parker. Produced by Braniff. Performed by Matt Stone, John ‘Nancy’ Hansen Trey Parker. 2005.

Van Biema, David. “Kingdom Come – Salt Lake City Was Just for Starters – The Mormons’ True Great Trek Has Been to Social Acceptance And a $30 Billion Church Empire.” Time Magazine, August 4, 1997.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “How Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses Are There Worldwide?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/how-many-jw-members/ (accessed November 2016, 2016).

—. “What Is a Pioneer?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/jehovahs-will/jw-pioneer/ (accessed November 28, 2016).

White, Thomas and John Yeats. Franchising McChurch: Feeding American’s Obsession with Easy Christianity. David C Cook, 2009.

Wikiquote contributors. “L. Ron Hubbard.” Wikiquote. March 16, 2016. https://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=L._Ron_Hubbard&oldid=2100019 (accessed March 28, 2016).

[1] Evangelical Philosophical Society. “Interview with Paul Copan: Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?” Evangelical Philosophical Society. April 7, 2008. http://blog.epsociety.org/2008/04/interview-with-paul-copan-is-yahweh.asp (accessed November 13, 2016).

[2] Abramsky, Sasha. “Christopher Hitchens Interview.” The Progressive. December 16, 1997. http://www.progressive.org/christopher_hitchens_1997_progressive_interview.html (accessed November 13, 2016).

[3] Hitchens, Christopher. “God Bless Me, It’s a Best-Seller!” Vanity Fair. September 2007. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/09/hitchens200709 (accessed November 16, 2016).

 

[4] Pew Research Center. “Religious Landscape Study.” Pew Research Center. 2016. http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/ (accessed November 11, 2016).

[5] McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Revised and Expanded ed. Baker Books, 2015. p 20.

[6] Barker, Jason. “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.” Watchman Fellowship. 2011. http://www.watchman.org/profiles/pdf/watchtowerprofile.pdf (accessed November 16, 2016).

[7] Branch, Rich. “Church of Scientolgy .” Watchman Fellowship. 1994. http://www.watchman.org/profiles/pdf/scientologyprofile.pdf (accessed November 16, 2106).

[8] White, Thomas and John Yeats. Franchising McChurch: Feeding American’s Obsession with Easy Christianity. David C Cook, 2009. p 13

[9] ibid

[10] This text has been used in the course Church Leadership and Administration at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is published by a Southern Baptist publishing company.

[11] On pages 318, 384, and 386 of Pastor’s Handbook, Pastor John Bisagno encourages readers to adopt some of the business practices of these secular hospitality companies in order to attract and retain church attendees.

[12] Grim, Brian J and Melissa E. Grim. “The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 2016. p 2

[13] ibid

[14] Their size, scope, competence, and compliance with a Christian view of justice are debatable.  However, that debate is outside of the scope of this paper.

[15]Romans 13:1-7

[16] Federal Trade Commission . “The Antitrust Laws.” Federal Trade Commission. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-antitrust-laws/antitrust-laws (accessed November 19, 2016).

[17] “Trust-busting” is a term that referred to President Theodore Roosevelt’s policy of prosecuting monopolies, or “trusts,” that violated federal antitrust law.  See http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/trust-busting for further explanation.

[18] It may seem strange to refer to religious organizations as “monopolistic,” however, one of the marks of a cult is that, like a monopoly, it corners the market on something desirable.  In the case of a cult, it purports to have the market cornered on truth.  According to the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry, one of the tendencies of a cult is that it “often considers traditional religious systems to be apostate and it alone possesses the complete truth.”  For more information see https://carm.org/cults-outline-analysis.

[19] 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21

[20] James 1:12

[21] Luke 20:47, Ezekiel 16:49, Amos 5:12, Titus 1:11, 1 Peter 5:2

[22] Ephesians 5:11

[23] Philippians 1:15

[24] Horn, Marianna L. “The downside of persistence: The effects of mood on an escalation of commitment paradigm.” A thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Auburn University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science, 2012.

[25] ibid

[26] Staw, Barry M and Jerry Ross. “Knowing When to Pull the Plug.” Harvard Business Review, 1987.

 

[27] ibid

[28] Investopedia. “Sunk Cost.” Investopedia. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sunkcost.asp?lgl=no-infinite (accessed November 27, 2016).

 

[29] Branch, Rich. “Church of Scientolgy .” Watchman Fellowship. 1994. http://www.watchman.org/profiles/pdf/scientologyprofile.pdf (accessed November 16, 2106).

[30] ibid

[31] This information was a closely guarded secret for decades.  In recent years, media producers and former scientologists have begun to disseminate this information on the internet, in books, in documentary film, and even in an episode of South Park.

[32] It must be noted here that L. Ron Hubbard was a writer of science fiction stories before he founded Scientology.

[33] Branch, Craig. “Church of Scientology: A Religious Mafia?” Watchman Fellowship. http://www.watchman.org/articles/scientology/church-of-scientology-a-religious-mafia/ (accessed November 27, 2016).

[34] Breaking critics through litigation is a key strategy in fair game doctrine.  Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard once remarked, “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.”  For more information see https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/fair-game-scientology-ergun-caner-lawsuits-and-the-georgia-baptist-convention/.

[35] It is worth noting that the United States government (specifically the IRS) did challenge the religious status of the Church of Scientology.  The church was the subject of a massive FBI investigation that included raids on church property.  A number of church operatives went to jail as a result of these investigations.  Eventually, through the use of litigation, The Church of Scientology obtained recognition as a “religion” by the IRS.  For more information see Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

[36] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “What Is a Pioneer?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/jehovahs-will/jw-pioneer/ (accessed November 28, 2016).

[37] “The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit corporation formed in 1884 under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, U.S.A.  It is under the structure of this corporation, as well as a number of affiliated legal entities, that the religious group known as “Jehovah’s Witnesses” carries out its worldwide work.  For more information see https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/a-doctrinal-overview-of-the-watch-tower/.

[38] http://www.watchthetower.net/. “Tools of the Trade.” http://www.watchthetower.net/. http://www.watchthetower.net/tools1 (accessed November 28, 2016).  The proprietors of Watchthetower.net are Paul and Pat Blizzard.  The Blizzards are former high-level Jehovah’s Witnesses who are well-known detractors of the Watch Tower.  For more information on the Blizzards see http://www.watchthetower.net/bio.html.

[39] Hewitt, Joe B. Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower. Garland, TX: Hannibal Books, 2011. p 11

[40] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “What Is a Pioneer?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/jehovahs-will/jw-pioneer/ (accessed November 28, 2016).

[41] Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011. p 18

[42] McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Revised and Expanded ed. Baker Books, 2015. p 303

 

[43] ibid p 12-13

[44] Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Missionary Program.” Newsroom. 2016. https://www.lds.org/callings/missionary/faqs?lang=eng#4 (accessed November 28, 2016).

[45] Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Preparing to Serve.” http://www.lds.org. March 18, 2016. https://www.lds.org/callings/missionary/faqs?lang=eng#4 (accessed November 28, 2016).

 

[46] McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Revised and Expanded ed. Baker Books, 2015. p 244

[47] ibid p 143

[48] Naylor, Carma. A Mormon’s Unexpected Journey: Finding the Grace I Never Knew. Vol. 1. Enumclaw, MA: Winpress Publishing, 2006. p 214

[49] The median age for a first marriage in the U.S. has climbed to 25.8 for women and 27.4 for men. In heavily Mormon Utah, the median age for first-time brides has jumped from 20 in 1970 to 22 in 2008, and from 22 to 24 for men. For more information see http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-04-22-mormon_dating_21_ST_N.htm.

 

[50] Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Facts and Statistics.” Newsroom. September 01, 2016. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics (accessed September 18, 2016).

[51] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “How Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses Are There Worldwide?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/how-many-jw-members/ (accessed November 2016, 2016).

[52] Naylor, Carma. A Mormon’s Unexpected Journey: Finding the Grace I Never Knew. Vol. 1. Enumclaw, MA: Winpress Publishing, 2006. p 158

[53] Shell, G. Richard. Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People. Penguin Books, 2006. p 46

[54] This contest scenario is not of my own invention.  It was presented by the professor to my Psychology 101 class at Georgia Southern University in the year 2000.  It’s been sixteen years since I took that course.  His Parkay butter example sticks with me but I do not recall the professor’s name.  He was a Buddhist who proscribed spanking children so I didn’t put a lot of stock into some of the other things he said.

[55] A Mormon testimony includes affirming the knowledge that one preexisted with God on Kolob before being born on planet Earth.  Mormons believe that they preexisted as God’s spirit children on another planet before coming to Earth as humans.  Similarly, Scientologists believe that their thetan souls preexisted as extraterrestrials before their human hosts were born on Earth.

[56] Naylor, Carma. A Mormon’s Unexpected Journey: Finding the Grace I Never Knew. Vol. 1. Enumclaw, MA: Winpress Publishing, 2006. p 7

[57] Mormon testimony almost typically includes the claim that the Mormon received a “burning in the bosom” from the Holy Spirit that testified to the truth of the Book of Mormon.

[58] I use the term “countless” hyperbolically here since Jehovah’s Witnesses literally keep count of their witnessing encounters and turn in reports documenting their counts to their church’s leadership.

[59] Hayes, Jenny and Frances Dredge. Managing Customer Service. Gower Publishing Limited, 1998. p 4

[60] Fisher, Josie. Bait-And-Switch Practices. Vol. 1, in Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society, edited by Robert W. Kolb. Sage Publications, 2008. p 139

[61] Hewitt, Joe B. Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower. Garland, TX: Hannibal Books, 2011. p 43-44.

[62] McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Revised and Expanded ed. Baker Books, 2015. p 31

[63] Dunn, Seth. “An Interview with a Former Mormon.” Seth Dunn – A Christian Worldview. November 25, 2016. https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/an-interview-with-a-former-mormon/ (accessed November 28, 2016).

 

[64] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

[65] That church is NewSpring Community Church in Anderson, SC.  For more information see http://thomrainer.com/sbc500/.

[66] Noble, Perry. “My Next Step.” PerryNoble.com. November 28, 2016. https://perrynoble.com/blog/my-next-step (accessed November 28, 2016)

[67] Barber, Wayne. “Ephesians 1:18-20 by Wayne Barber.” PreceptAustin.Org. August 01, 2016. http://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_118-20_by_wayne_barber (accessed November 28, 2016).

 

[68] Van Biema, David. “Kingdom Come – Salt Lake City Was Just for Starters – The Mormons’ True Great Trek Has Been to Social Acceptance And a $30 Billion Church Empire.” Time Magazine, August 4, 1997.

[69] Wikiquote contributors. “L. Ron Hubbard.” Wikiquote. March 16, 2016. https://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=L._Ron_Hubbard&oldid=2100019 (accessed March 28, 2016).

[70] Matthew 8:20

[71] Matthew 16:18

An interview with a Former Mormon

In the course of my research for a forthcoming paper on the psychological tactics of American cults, I recently interviewed a former Mormon.   The subject of this interview is a  white male professional in his late twenties named “Alex H.”  His answers to my questions about his association with the Latter Day Saints were very interesting.  In the hopes that you will also find them helpful in your future dealings with the LDS cult, I have included the interview below:

What was your religious background before you became interested in Mormonism?

I was raised in the Church of God of the Union Assembly, but as I grew older I attended different church services. In Middle school and High school I was interested in Paganism and soon began practicing witchcraft, which I practiced for 2 years. I currently don’t have any religious beliefs and consider myself an agnostic atheist because I don’t believe in a god but I don’t know if one exists. I don’t believe in the bible the book or Mormon or witchcraft. Finally accepting the fact that I didn’t believe the miracle claims in the bible using logic made me come to conclusion that I didn’t believe in God anymore.

How did you first come across Mormons?

I was introduced to Mormons by a friend from college. She invited me to a YSA event ( Young single adults ) and I went in hopes to start a romantic relationship with her. However, the only thing I left with was an interest in the church and desire know more about its doctrine.

How familiar were you with Mormonism before you first met Mormons?

I was not very familiar with the church until I joined, but I do remember television commercials that would air and the occasional pair of missionaries that would pass by our house on their bicycles. They tried to leave us with their pamphlets.

What about the LDS religion interested you?

The LDS church interested me because everything was so darn happy all the time and I wanted to be that way.

What about Mormonism made it seem more compelling than other religious systems?

Mormonism seemed more compelling than other religious systems because I interpreted a certain scripture differently than my former church. I interpreted James 1:5 in the same way the Mormons did. I lacked wisdom and I thought the Mormons had the answers that any other church lacked.

How long did you study and consider Mormonism before you joined the LDS?

I studied with the missionaries for about a month before I joined the church.

Was there any tenet of Mormonism religion that you didn’t believe before you joined the LDS?

I believed every tenet that the Mormon missionaries taught as soon as they presented it to me. 

What the primary argument presented to you for becoming a Mormon?

It really made a lot of sense at the time that we should return to god and become like him. It seems like the Mormons had an answer for every question I had about life and my purpose here.

How would you describe your level of biblical knowledge before you began studying Mormonism?

Although I had not read the complete bible, I did make it through the old testament.

Did you receive a “burning in the bosom” after praying about the Book of Mormon?

At the time I felt compelled to join the Mormon church because it seemed right. Everything in my life seemed like it lead to joining the church.

Did you read the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, or the Doctrines and Covenants in their entirety before or after joining the LDS?

I read the entire Book of Mormon after I joined, but I didn’t read the Pearl of Great Price or the Doctrines and Covenants.

Was there anything that you found out about Mormonism after becoming a Mormon that you feel should have been disclosed to you before your joining?

I found out that you are not suppose to tell investigators about “deep” doctrine because it often scared off new members such as: There’s a heavenly mother, we can become gods, if you don’t pay your tithing you will die in by falling fire .. fun stuff like that..

Was there a difference in the way you were treated before joining the LDS from the way you were treated after joining the LDS?

I was “love bombed” when I was an investigator, but after I joined they lost interest in me and stopped showing me so much attention.

Do you ever question the teachings or instructions of the LDS? 

I only questioned the teachings of the church right before I decided I didn’t want to be Mormon anymore.

Did other Mormons ever question the teachings or instructions of the LDS?

Yes, I knew some that did but kept believing the doctrine anyway. Most believed everything. 

What was said, if anything, about those people who chose to leave the LDS?

Nothing much was said about ex-members.

Were you involved in proselytizing for the LDS?

Yes, for a solid 6 months I went out with the missionaries knocking on doors and teaching taught people about the church and urged them to join.

Did you ever receive a temple recommend?

No, I didn’t receive a temple recommend. However, I did attend an open house in Atlanta. Every so often the temple is cleaned and shortly after it’s open to the public to tour.

 

In your experience, did the LDS use any psychological tactics to recruit, train, and retain converts?

They used psychological tactics like “love bombing” and shunning. If I didn’t follow the rules I would not get to partake in the sacrament and everyone would see that I wasn’t worthy of partaking. This was suppose to make me feel bad enough to change my behavior.

What is the best thing about the LDS?

While I was Mormon I felt very happy as long as I followed the rules.

What is the worst thing about the LDS?

The worst thing was having my family disown for a short while and even being asked to leave my grandparents house.

What caused you to leave the LDS?

I left the church because I finally came to conclusion that I didn’t believe in the bible anymore.

How were you treated by Mormons after leaving the LDS?

I was shunned by the members I would see out in public, but my home teacher and bishop would try to set up meetings where they could convince me to come back. After ignoring them long enough and change my address and phone number a couple of time they quit bothering me.

Technically, I’m still a member because when you join the church you sign a contract and are a member until you get you official request removing your name from the churches records which takes some time because they try to stall you. This wasn’t even an option until 1985.


*I am grateful to Alex for his participation in my paper research.  I ask that the readers of this blog keep Alex and others who have been involved in the Mormon religion in their prayers.  Remember, you could be the very person who leads a current or former Mormon to a saving relationship with the true Lord Jesus Christ.

**Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

 

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Harmful Effect of Christianity #25

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Revelation 4:9-11

This post is the twenty-fifth in a series that addresses a list of “40 harmful effects of Christianity” that originated on the American Atheists Facebook page and has since made its way around the internet. In this post, I examine the following “harmful effect” from the list:

Harmful Effect #25: Children traumatized by vivid stories of eternal burning and torture to ensure that they’ll be too frightened to even question

Imagine an aged Palestinian Jew banished to a small island in the Aegean Sea by a hostile Roman government near the turn of the first century. He writes several letters to Christian churches scattered throughout the region which include vision of the future. This is the very scenario in which the Book of Revelation to John was produced. Revelation is of the “apocalyptic” literary genre, which is one of the most difficult ancient genres to understand. The idea that it was produced to “ensure that children would be too frightened to question religion” is ludicrous; children struggle to understand apocalyptic imagery. Furthermore, though some of the letters to the various churches were harsh, they were written to criticize and encourage adult church leaders, not to traumatize children.

The idea that John, a Christian exile nearing death from old age, would be plotting to scare children into remaining “religious” in ~100 AD defies an understanding of his historical context. The Roman Empire was already very religious. In fact, Christians, most notably John, were already being persecuted for their refusal to take part in the preferred religious practices of the Empire. There was already vivid and sufficient fear throughout the empire for those who were irreligious. Christians weren’t banished or put to the sword for being religious, they were banished or put to the sword for being followers of the wrong religion.

In addition to the eternal punishment portrayed in the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ makes several statements about Hell in the four gospels. Again, the idea that these statements were made to “frighten children” into remaining religious is ridiculous. The society in which Christ lived was already very religious. Furthermore, the overall message of Christianity is one of hope and deliverance. Jesus offered eternal and secured salvation from death. Death was not a fear invented by religion but one already extant in the world. Christianity engenders, not further fear of death, but a hope for escaping it. No Christian, young or old, need fear death or Hell (or a hostile government for that matter). The Christian has been delivered by God’s enduring love and grace.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t placed your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, I assure you to today do so. There is no fear inside of Christianity.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

In my next post in this series, I’ll address the following:

Harmful Effect #26: Terminal patients in constant agony who would end their lives if they didn’t believe it would result in eternal torture.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

An Open Letter to James Black of the Open Door Christian Bookstore in Cartersville, GA

Dear James,

Today, you accused me of having the “Spirit of the Pharisees”.  I’ll never forget the little smile you had on your face when you said it.  I’d like to tell you something about the Pharisees.  Rather, I’d like to have Jesus tell you something.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:13-15

For years, you’ve sold books by prosperity preachers and false prophets such as Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, John Hagee, and Jesse Duplantis.   I’ve seen their books in your store.  They were there today.  For years, men and women have come into your store looking for spiritual bread and you’ve sold them the leaven of very men who devour houses.  Prosperity preachers sell a false gospel and false hope to people who don’t have a whole lot.  You help them.

You see, you’re the one in the mainstream in our Bible belt society.  You’re the one who owns the “Christian” Bookstore.  You sell the books to people who buy them hoping can understand how to live godly lives.  You do that, not me.   You do the job of the Pharisees, not me.  You are the very kind of person that Jesus Christ and his Apostles confronted and rebuked. ..and you’re just as stiff-necked.

You own a store full of Christian books and you can’t even apply the scripture to know what a Pharisee truly is.

Two years ago, I came to your store to confront you about the heresy you sold to people for a profit.  Selling what you sell is like selling whiskey to a drunk.  I asked you to reconsider.  You wouldn’t budge.  You wouldn’t repent.   You still won’t.  Today, I came to tell you that I was glad your store was going out of business.  I know it’s more likely competition from Amazon than God’s judgments that put you in there but I’m glad your little shop of theological horrors is gone from my city.

I was the only man in your store today when I walked in.  Everyone else was an older woman, your typical customer.   You’ve been devourer the houses of these poor old ladies for years.  I hope you never do it again.  I hope your going-out-of-business reception is the last time they ever get anything from you, unless it’s an apology.

I hear you go to New Covenant Full Gospel Church over by Walmart.  If that church believes in all the prosperity gospel you sell, I hope it goes straight out of business.   If not, I hope that body calls you to repent.  I know you have a lot of preacher friends.  It’s said none of them seemed to have loved you enough to call you to repent of what you do.  All your preacher friends should be ashamed for supporting you and your store all these years.

May God be the Judge Between You and Me,

G. Seth Dunn

PS

You’ve had Matthew 18:20 on your sign for as long as I can remember.  You were applying it wrong. It’s not about geting together to read books about God and drink coffee.  It’s about church discipline, something any biblical church would have put you under long ago.

A DOCTRINAL OVERVIEW OF THE WATCH TOWER

Jehovah’s Witness

“The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit corporation formed in 1884 under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, U.S.A.”[1]  It is under the structure of this corporation, as well as a number of affiliated legal entities, that the religious group known as “Jehovah’s Witnesses” carries out its worldwide work.  According to the group’s own claim, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, but they are not Protestants for the same reason that they are not Catholics—they recognize certain teachings of those religions as unscriptural.”[2] While Jehovah’s Witnesses are correct to identify Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity as different religions[3], they are incorrect to state that they themselves are Christians.  The Watch Tower[4] is actually a “pseudo-Christian cult”[5] that presents both a different Jesus and a different gospel than those which are presented in the Biblical text.  A doctrine-by-doctrine critique of Watch Tower religious beliefs demonstrates that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and perpetrate a number of heresies (some of which predate the founding of the Jehovah’s Witness religion itself).  By understanding Jehovah’s Witness doctrines, Christians can be better prepared to refute the errors of the Watch Tower and share the true gospel of Jesus Christ with Jehovah’s Witnesses.[6]

The Watch Tower Doctrine of God

There is one “true and Almighty God”[7] who created the universe.  He is the God that was worshipped by (the biblical figures) Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. His name is Jehovah.  “God is Holy.”[8]  God loves justice and hates injustice; this does not change.

  Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of God

On the surface, the Watch Tower’s statement about God looks to be fair and accurate.  Older, respected English translations of the Old Testament do refer to God’s name as “Jehovah.”  However, “many authorities believe that Yahweh is closer to the original pronunciation”[9] of God’s name than is Jehovah, a term that would not be developed until well after biblical times when the Latin language came into use.  Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that God requires that his people refer to Him by “Jehovah” and consider the very name of their sect “as proof that theirs is the one true religion.”[10] The Bible does portray God as Holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous, (Psalm 11:7) and unchanging (Malachi 3:6).  The Bible also portrays God as the God of the patriarchs and prophets.  However, it is not entirely accurate to refer to God as “the God of Jesus”.  Rather Jesus is God. (John 1:1).  When the New Testament portrays Jesus as praying, he is praying to “the Father,” one of the three members of the Trinitarian Godhead (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus Himself, the Son, is a member of this Trinity.  The other is the Holy Spirit.  Yet, according to the Watch Tower, God is not a trinity.  Their literature claims that “Satan is the origin of the doctrine that God is a Trinity”[11]  This is a blasphemous and unbiblical position.  “God is one and yet eternally exists in three persons.”[12]

The Watch Tower Doctrine of the Bible

The Bible is God’s inspired message to humans; it consists of 66 books, broken out between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Some parts of the Bible should be understood figuratively.  The Bible is a “harmonious and accurate”[13] collection of documents which contains history, wisdom, and prophecy.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of the Bible

At a superficial level, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a proper view of scripture.  Even though the Jehovah’s Witnesses misidentify the Holy Spirit as a force, referring to him as an “it” rather than as a person, they recognize that the Bible is divinely inspired (2 Peter 1:21).  They also recognize that the Bible is a trustworthy collection of documents that should be understood in context.  Proper context, however, is determined by the Watch Tower itself.  In addition to believing that the Bible is inerrant and authoritative, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that “the Bible is an organizational book. . . . For this reason the Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah’s visible organization in mind.”[14]  This idea is not taught in scripture itself.  The Watch Tower assigns Jehovah’s Witnesses thousands of pages of Watch Tower literature each year, compared with only hundreds of pages of Bible reading. “The majority of Witnesses (get) so bogged down by the three thousand pages of the Society’s literature that they never got around to doing the Bible reading.”[15]  Reading the Bible in context, and without Watch Tower prejudice, is an effective way for Jehovah’s Witnesses to begin doubting and eventually leave the Watch Tower.[16]

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Jesus

“Before Jesus was born, the Bible foretold of one whom God would send as the Messiah, or Christ.”[17] Jesus is that Messiah and he “enjoyed close association (with Jehovah) for billions of years –long before the starry heavens and earth were created.”[18]  The teachings and example of Jesus Christ are followed by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He was born to Mary, a virgin.  He is both the Savior of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Son of God.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians (followers of Christ).  Jesus was arrested, accused by false witnesses, convicted by corrupt judges, laughed at by mobs, and tortured by soldiers.”[19]  He was nailed to a stake and after his death Jehovah “raised him back to spirit life.”[20]  There is no scriptural basis for the Trinity doctrine.  The Bible does not teach that Jesus is Almighty God.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Jesus

The Watch Tower correctly asserts that the Old Testament promised a coming Messiah and that Jesus was him. (John 4:26)  It is also correct that the Son of God did not begin to exist at his virgin birth to Mary.  However, its claim the he enjoyed a billions-of-years-long relationship with his Father is misleading and cannot be supported by the Bible.  The Bible simply does not speak to a specific length of time that elapsed in which God existed with spirit creatures before creating the Heavens and the Earth (1:1).  Furthermore, time itself arguably did not begin until God initiated material creation.  Additionally, the Watch Tower asserts that Jesus preexisted as the angel Michael, “the first angel God created.”[21]  The Biblical record is clear that Jesus is God (John 1:1) and existed eternally before He was incarnated as the man Jesus of Nazareth.  The Son is not a created being and His relationship with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) has existed from eternity past.  Jesus was, the Watch Tower correctly asserts, falsely accused by corrupt people (Mark 14:56) and killed.  However, He did not die on a stake but a cross (Philippians 2:8).  Furthermore He was not “raised back to spirit life” but rather raised bodily. (1 Corinthians 15)  There is ample basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, especially in the baptismal formula mentioned in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19).  Not only do Jehovah’s Witnesses wrong deny the doctrine of the Trinity, they wrongly define it, asserting that “the doctrine is…that there are three Gods in one.”[22] The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God, Who exists in three persons.

The Watch Tower Doctrine of the Kingdom of God

There is a real government in Heaven that will replace human governments and accomplish God’s purpose for the earth.  Humankind is living in the last days and thus this government will accomplish its purpose soon.  Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom in Heaven and he began ruling 1914.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of the Kingdom of God

Jesus is indeed King (John 18:37, Revelation 19:16).  In the eschaton, Jesus Christ will return and set up what can rightfully be understood as government upon the Earth (Isaiah 9:7).  He will create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-2) and, having reconciled God with man (2 Corinthians 5:18), will eliminate all the sorrow that the fall and sin have brought about[23] (Revelation 21:3-4).  The biblical record differs from Watch Tower teaching in that Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe that the earth will contain a “secondary”[24] class of believers and that 144,000 select Jehovah’s Witnesses will dwell in Heaven and rule over them[25].  There is no Biblical passage which supports the idea that a secondary class of believers will dwell on Earth but not Heaven (rather, Heaven and Earth will essentially merge into one).  The Watch Tower misapplies Matthew 5:5 to support this contention.  The claim that Jesus began ruling in 1914 has no legitimate basis in scripture and is the result of revisionist reaction to a failed end-times prophecy.  Along with other contemporary religious sects, Jehovah’s Witnesses saw the tumultuous times that precipitated World War I as a sign of the end times.  They believed that the world would end in 1914, which didn’t happen. Jehovah’s Witnesses “have totally changed their view of the significance of 1914. They formerly taught that ‘the time of the end’ began in 1799 and would conclude in 1914; today they believe it began in 1914. They used to teach that Christ returned invisibly in 1874 and would take control of earth’s affairs in 1914; now they believe he returned in 1914.  They long predicted ‘the full establishment of the Kingdom of God in the earth at A.D. 1914’…now they say the kingdom was set up in heaven at that time and will assume earthly power later. Virtually everything they formerly taught concerning 1914 has been changed…”[26]

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Salvation

People can be delivered from sin and death through the “ransom sacrifice of Jesus.”[27]  In order to benefit from that sacrifice people must exercise faith in Jesus, change their course of life, and get baptized.  Works are evidence that prove living faith.  Salvation cannot be earned; it comes though the underserved kindness of God.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Salvation

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ does provide the possibility of deliverance from sin and death (Romans 1:16, John 3:16, 1 Peter 3:18).   Faith is indeed required to reap the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 11:6).[28]  However, although baptism is an act of obedience (Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:38), it is not required for salvation as the example of the thief on the cross proves (Luke 23:43).  If baptism were required for salvation, then salvation would not come through faith alone.  Thus it contradicts biblical teaching to assert that people must be baptized in order to be saved.  Works are indeed evidence of a living faith (James 2:18) and repentance is a prerequisite for salvation (Mark 1:15).  The idea that Jesus’ death was literally a ransom paid for Adam’s sin misunderstands the biblical text.  Christians are delivered from sin and death through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53:5).  Christ’s death atoned for the sins of all believers (1 Peter 3:18).  Jehovah’s Witnesses erroneously believe that Jesus’ death was merely a ransom for Adam’s sin.[29]  Furthermore, the Watch Tower’s “ransom” view of Christ’s sacrifice denies possibility of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Under their ransom scenario, “…resurrecting Christ’s body would be impossible…since that would constitute taking back the ransom price he paid…”[30]  The Bible teaches that Christ’s resurrection was bodily (1 Corinthians 6:14, 15); therefore the Jehovah’s Witness insistence on a literal ransom is wrongheaded.

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Heaven

Heaven is a spiritual realm.  It is currently populated by Jehovah God, Jesus Christ, and the faithful angels (those angels that did not rebel along with Satan).  144,000 faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses will one day be resurrected to life in heaven to rule with Jesus.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Heaven

It is true that heaven is a spiritual realm that Jesus and the angels reside there (Acts 1:14, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:12).  However, Jesus does not reside in Heaven with Jehovah God; He resides in Heaven as Jehovah God.  The Godhead consists of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as stated above).  Christians will eventually be resurrected to bodily life, a material existence (1 Corinthians 15).  The number of those resurrected is not limited to 144,000; there is no biblical support for that idea.  Rather the Jehovah’s Witnesses misinterpret passages in Revelation to make such a claim.

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Earth

The Earth was created to be mankind’s eternal home.  “God wants the earth to be filled with happy, healthy people.”[31]  The world contains unhealthy and sick people now because of the fall and the machinations of the devil.  “Satan in the ruler of this world.”[32]  Eventually, Satan’s rule will one day be overthrown and God will bless obedient people with everlasting life in an earthly paradise.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Earth

The Watch Tower doctrine of the Earth is fairly accurate.  God’s original creation was good and there was no death (Genesis 1-2).   Through the sin that resulted from the temptation of Satan, death came to mankind (Genesis 3, Romans 5:19, 1 Corinthians 15:22).   The world is under the power of the devil (1 John 5:19).  Satan will be removed from the world and cast into Hell (Revelation 20:10) when Jesus returns.  People who were obedient to God, inasmuch as they responded to His call to repentance, will have an everlasting life in earthly paradise.  However, (as stated above) there will not be a separate heavenly kingdom where a special 144,000 anointed people rule along to Jesus.

 The Watch Tower of Evil and Suffering

Evil and suffering began when angels rebelled.  Satan, a fallen angel, persuaded the first human couple (Adam and Eve) to rebel against God as well.  This caused disaster for Adam and Eve’s descendants.  God will not allow evil and suffering to continue forever.  In order to settle the moral issues raised by Satan to occur, He has allowed evil and suffering.  His allowing rebellion was to teach those who rebelled that not following God’s rule was not the best way to live.[33]

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower of Evil and Suffering

The Watch Tower correctly asserts that evil and suffering began because of the rebellion of angels in Heaven (Luke 10:18, Revelation 12:7-9).  However, there is scant biblical evidence for a specific reason as to why God allows suffering.  In the book of Job, which addresses evil and suffering, God does not provide an answer as to why evil is allowed (Job 42).  In a somewhat rudimentary way, the Watch Tower asserts a soul-building theodicy for why God allows evil.  There are many such theodicies which are philosophically sound but do not enjoy explicit scriptural support.[34]  The idea that God was trying to “teach us a lesson” by allowing evil is tenuous at best.  Scripture is clear that God is good (Mark 10:18) and that mankind is not in a position to question Him (Job 38:2) and in many cases even understand why God does what He does or allows what He allows.

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Death

When people die, they pass out of existence.  “Death is a ‘state of nonexistence . . . a state of complete unconsciousness’ and “the dead cannot do anything and cannot feel anything.  They no longer have any thoughts.”[35]  The dead do not suffer in fiery hell of torment.  Eventually, God will bring millions of people back from death by means of a resurrection.  At the time of the resurrection, those who refuse to learn God’s ways will be destroyed once and for all without any further hope of being raised to life once more.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Death

There is indeed an intermediate state between death and the resurrection.  However, it is a conscious state (Luke 16:19-31).  The spirits of the righteous[36] dead reside in Heaven with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) and the spirits of the unrighteous dead reside in Hades awaiting God’s judgment (Revelation 20:13).  There are multiple texts in the Bible which describe the dead as being “asleep” or “knowing nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).  Through misunderstanding literary genre (wisdom literature in the case of Ecclesiastes) and the use of figurative language, the Watch Tower wrongly concludes that death is state of literal sleep or unconsciousness.  Not only does this view stand at odds with biblical teaching, it stands at odds with biology; it is not uncommon for living people who are asleep to dream and remember the thoughts of their dreams when they awake.  The Watch Tower idea of “soul sleep” during death is plainly nonsensical.  It is also misleading to say that dead do not suffer in fiery torment.  Not only does the Bible indicate that there is state of torment for some in the intermediate state (Luke 16:19-31), eternal torment in Hell awaits nonbelievers after the resurrection of the dead (Revelation 14:11).  There is also nothing to suggest that those who didn’t call upon the name of the Lord for salvation before they died will get a chance to chose to follow God’s commandments after the resurrection of the dead.  The Bible teaches that judgment follows death (Hebrews 9:27) and that, for the damned, this judgment is based upon their deeds (Revelation 20:12).  It is worth noting that Watch Tower theodicy necessitates that those who refuse to learn God’s ways must be annihilated.  Since evil and suffering are, according to Watch Tower thought, only allowed by God in order to teach disobedient people a lesson about obeying God, those who refuse to learn the lesson must be destroyed if evil and suffering are to end.  The Bible teaches that suffering never ends for the damned, they suffer in Hell eternally.  Thus, the Watch Tower interprets scripture, apart from its true meaning, through a broken theological lens, one which will not see a God who would allow eternal suffering in Hell.[37]

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Family

Marriage is the union of one man and one woman.  The wisdom found in the Bible helps families succeed.  Sexual immorality is the only valid basis for divorce.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Family

The Watch Tower doctrine of the family, inasmuch as it is stated above, is biblically sound (Matthew 19:4-9, Ephesians 5:22, 6:1).  However, in practice, adherence to Watch Tower doctrine can cause familial distress.  People who leave the Watch Tower or violate its regulations (i.e. voting, serving in the military, reading literate critical of the Watch Tower, or accepting a blood transfusion) can be shunned by their own parents, aunts, uncles, and siblings.  While it is true that Jesus said adherence to Christianity could split families (Matthew 10:35), the Watch Tower causes family tumult (even death in the case of some medical issues) over extra-biblical doctrines.

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Worship

Key aspects of worship can include praying to God, reading and studying the Bible, mediating on what is learned from the Bible, meeting with other church members to pray, sing, study the Bible, express faith, or encourage one another, preaching the “good news of the kingdom,” helping those in need, participating in disaster relief, and constructing and maintaining church (Kingdom Hall) facilities.  The cross or other images should not be venerated.

 A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Worship

All of the activities listed above are appropriate expressions of worship in the context of a Christian church.   Images, even the cross (which the Watch Tower incorrectly asserts was not the instrument of Christ’s death) should not be venerated (Exodus 20:4).  Technically, since the Watch Tower is not a Christian church, its worship is false worship.  Nevertheless, the worship activities in which the Watch Tower purports to engage are activities in which members of true Christian churches should engage.

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Organization

Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized into congregations which are led by elders.  Elders are not considered “clergy” and do not earn a salary.  Collections are not taken at meeting and tithing is not required.  All Jehovah’s Witness activities are supported by anonymous donations.  There is a governing body which oversees all local Jehovah’s Witness bodies.  The governing body does so from the Watch Tower’s world headquarters.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Organization

Local congregations should be governed by elders (Titus 1:5, Acts 14:23).  However, there is an “office” of elder that only qualified men can hold (1 Timothy 3:1-7).  Those serving in the office of elder are eligible to receive remuneration for their services (1 Timothy 5:18).  Inasmuch as it is feasible, giving to support Christian work should be done anonymously (Matthew 6:2-4).  There is no biblical mandate for an authoritative worldwide church headquarters that houses a governing body with authority over every single local church.  The Watch Tower’s claim to ecclesiastical authority is spurious.

 The Watch Tower Doctrine of Unity

Jehovah’s Witnesses are globally united in their beliefs.  They work hard to eliminate social, ethnic, racial, and class divisions.  Jehovah’s Witness unity allows for personal choice; each Witness makes decisions which harmonize with his own “Bible-trained conscious.”[38]

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Unity

Class divisions should not exist in the church, all members are of equal standing before God (Galatians 3:28).  Church members should be unified on doctrinal matters (1 Corinthians 1:10).  The claim that the Watch Tower allows for personal choice in accordance with conscious is a dubious one, given the various accounts of former members who describe the Watch Tower as authoritarian.[39]  It is also misleading to assert that a Jehovah’s Witness has a “bible-trained” conscious.  As noted above, Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to understand the Bible through Watch Tower teaching and in accordance with extra biblical Watch Tower literature.

 The Watch Tower Doctrine of Conduct

Unselfish love should be shown in all actions.  Practices that displease God should be avoided. Specifically, blood transfusions should not be received.  Believers should not participate in warfare.  The government should be respected inasmuch as it does not call upon citizens to disobey God’s laws.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Conduct

Unselfish love should be reflected in Christian Behavior (Luke 6:17-49).  Christians should avoid practices that displease God (Deuteronomy 6:5).   The government should be respected as an instrument of God’s justice (Romans 13:1-4). The bible does not proscribe blood transfusions.  The Watch Tower proscription of blood transfusions is based upon an anachronistic and improper application of Levitical Law.  In practice, the refusal of blood transmissions fails to preserve life which could be saved without committing a sin, which cannot be considered pleasing to God.  There is no biblical proscription for participating in warfare.  According to the Watch Tower, Jesus himself will field an army at the battle of Armageddon.[40]  Thus, the Watch Tower doctrine of pacifism seems to contradict its own teaching about Armageddon.  Despite the fact that there is no biblical proscription of military service, there could be cases were serving in the army of a wicked country conflicts with a Christian’s conscious and precludes him from participating in military service.

The Watch Tower Doctrine of Relationships with Others

Attempts to work what is good toward all should be made, while remaining politically neutral in political affairs.  Affiliations with other religions should be avoided while the religious choices of others should be respected.  Neighbors should be loved as one’s self.

A Biblical Response to the Watch Tower Doctrine of Relationships with Others

Affiliation with non-Christian religions should indeed be avoided (2 Corinthians 6:14).  However, there is no biblical proscription against participation in political affairs; the original biblical audiences did not live in democratic societies, thus the Bible does not specifically address voting and running for political office.  Christians are called to have a Godly influence (Matthew 5:13-16) and are expected, as sojourners and exiles upon the earth (1 Peter 2:11), to seek the welfare of their societies (Jeremiah 29:7).  Jesus insisted that the whole of scriptural teaching consisted of two great commandments: loving God completely and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self (Matthew 22:26-40).  Demonstrating this love includes adhering to the Ten Commandments, which forbids bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16).  Jehovah’s Witnesses only forbid lying to fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses.  “Telling a lie to a worldly organization (isn’t) really a lie.  It (is) okay to tell untruths to the world.”[41]  Thus, outsiders cannot always depend on the veracity of Jehovah’s Witness claims and Watch Tower claims about the importance of loving one’s neighbor are themselves deceitful.

 Concluding Analysis

It is a difficult task to set about outlining an overview and critique of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine.  As noted above, Jehovah’s Witnesses are permitted to deceive outsiders.  Thus, outsiders are often dependent on ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses to provide forthright accounts of the Watch Tower organization.  Furthermore, since the Watch Tower in a top-down organization, its doctrinal authority rests with its worldwide governing body.  This body can change doctrinal positions at its discretion whenever it receives what it calls “new light”.  Thus, the longer an ex-Jehovah’s Witness is out of the organization, the more out-of-date his insider information about the Watch Tower may become.  Even those doctrinal positions which the Watch Tower honestly publishes to outsiders are subject to change at a moment’s notice.  This doctrinal overview should be understood with these facts in mind.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Bibliography

2016 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “What is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/watchtower-society/ (accessed October 16, 2016).

Barker, Jason. New Watchtower Blood Transfusion Policy. 2000. http://www.watchman.org/articles/jehovahs-witnesses/new-watchtower-blood-transfusion-policy/ (accessed 28 2016, August).

Branch, Craig. “Cult or Cultic?” Watchman Fellowshp. http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/cult-or-cultic/ (accessed October 16, 2016).

Comments from the Friends . “I was a JW Elder: An interview with former Jehovah’s Witnesses David and Penni Reed.” October 10, 1990. http://ed5015.tripod.com/JwElderDavidReed10.htm (accessed October 2016, 2016).

Comments from the Friends. I WAS A JW ELDER. January 1990. http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/JwElderDavidReed10.htm (accessed August 20, 2016).

Erickson, Millard J. The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994.

Hewitt, Joe B. Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower. Garland, TX: Hannibal Books, 2011.

Rappaport, Andrew R. What Do They Belive? A Systematic Theology of Major Western Religions. Striving For Eternity Ministries, 2015.

Reed, David A. NEWS about Jehovah’s Witnesses. March 1998. http://www.answerjw.com/cftf/online/ (accessed August 20, 2016).

Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “Frequently Asked Questions.” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/g201008/frequently-asked-questions/ (accessed October 16, 2016).

—. “What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/jehovah-witness-beliefs/ (accessed October 26, 2016).

—. What Does the Bible Really Teach. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014.

—. “What Is the Battle of Armageddon?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/battle-of-armageddon/ (accessed November 6, 2016).

[1] 2016 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “What is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/Watch Tower-society/ (accessed October 16, 2016).

[2] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “Frequently Asked Questions.” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/g201008/frequently-asked-questions/ (accessed October 16, 2016).

[3] Sociologically speaking, Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity are reasonably considered branches of the same religion given that they share historic roots and compatible understandings of theology proper.  However, the Roman Catholic gospel is works-based and the authority of the Roman Catholic magisterium is considered equal to that of scripture; both of these ideas are rejected wholesale in Protestant thought.

[5] Branch, Craig. “Cult or Cultic?” Watchman Fellowshp. http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/cult-or-cultic/ (accessed October 16, 2016).

[6] The doctrinal categories listed below are taken from the “Top of Form

Bottom of FormWhat Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?” section of the Watch Tower website.  Thus, they are taken from a primary source and can rightly be considered officially recognized theological categories of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Unless otherwise noted, descriptions of these doctrines are taken from the same source.

[7] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/jehovah-witness-beliefs/ (accessed October 26, 2016).

[8] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. What Does the Bible Really Teach. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014. p 11

[9] Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011. p 219

[10] ibid p 130

[11] Rappaport, Andrew R. What Do They Belive? A Systematic Theology of Major Western Religions. Striving For Eternity Ministries, 2015. p 167

[12] Erickson, Millard J. The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994.  p 204

[13] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. What Does the Bible Really Teach. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014. p 20

[14] Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011. p 29

[15] Comments from the Friends . “I was a JW Elder: An interview with former Jehovah’s Witnesses David and Penni Reed.” October 10, 1990. http://ed5015.tripod.com/JwElderDavidReed10.htm (accessed October 2016, 2016).

[16] Hewitt, Joe B. Rescuing Slaves of the Watch Tower. Garland, TX: Hannibal Books, 2011.

[17] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. What Does the Bible Really Teach. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014. p 38

[18] ibid p 42

[19] ibid p 46

[20] ibid

[21] Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011. p 132

[22] Rappaport, Andrew R. What Do They Belive? A Systematic Theology of Major Western Religions. Striving For Eternity Ministries, 2015. p 166

[23] With the exception of those who endure eternal torment in Hell.

[24] Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011. p 113

[25] Rappaport, Andrew R. What Do They Belive? A Systematic Theology of Major Western Religions. Striving For Eternity Ministries, 2015. p 177

[26] Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011. p 22

[27] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/jehovah-witness-beliefs/ (accessed October 26, 2016).

[28] The Watch Tower has presented conflicting teaching on whether or not works are required for salvation.  Although the Watch Tower website states that “Salvation cannot be earned,” Watch Tower literature has stated otherwise in the past.  Page 204 of the July 1, 1947 edition of the Watch Tower stated, “To get one’s name written in the book of life will depend on one’s works, whether they are in fulfillment of God’s will and approved by his Judge and King.”

[29] Rappaport, Andrew R. What Do They Belive? A Systematic Theology of Major Western Religions. Striving For Eternity Ministries, 2015. p 174

[30] Reed, David. Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject. Kindle Edition. Baker Books, 2011. p 185

[31] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. What Does the Bible Really Teach. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014. p 27

[32] Ibid p 31

[33] Ibid p 110

[34] For more in-depth treatment of theodicy see my papers Insuperable Good News: Overcoming the Problem of Evil at https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/insuperable-good-news-overcoming-the-problem-of-the-problem-from-evil/ and Philosophical and Biblical Responses to Classic Arguments from Evil at https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/philosophical-and-bilbical-reponses-to-classic-arguments-from-evil/

[35] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. What Does the Bible Really Teach. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014. p 79

[36] The term “righteous” here should be understood to refer to those who have received the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

[37] Charles Taze Russell rejected the biblical doctrine of Hell.  This rejection eventually led to his founding the Jehovah’s Witness sect.  Because Russell rejected a fundamental biblical doctrine at the outset, his cult was doomed to be heretical from the start.  For more information on the life of Charles Taze Russell, consult http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-charles-taze-russell

[38] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “Frequently Asked Questions.” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/g201008/frequently-asked-questions/ (accessed October 16, 2016).

[39] One such account is that of Joe B. Hewitt.  His description of Watch Tower authority can be found in his book Rescuing Slaves from the Watchtower.

[40] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.. “What Is the Battle of Armageddon?” JW.ORG. 2016. https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/battle-of-armageddon/ (accessed November 6, 2016).

[41] Hewitt, Joe B. Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower. Garland, TX: Hannibal Books, 2011. p 35

November and Everything After: A Christian Reflection on American Elections

“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

One day, my Lord Jesus will return and make all things new.  There will be no more pain, poverty, suffering, defeat, or death.  There won’t be any voting, either.  There will be no need to worry about government, because the government will rest on the Lord’s perfect shoulders.  His government won’t have any solutions to the various maladies that society is today faced with but rather it will be the solution and to that government there will be no end.  All of God’s people, my fellow Christians, will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  We’ll be quite happy in that day. That day is not yet here. We live awaiting our Lord’s return.  We are called to be evangelists, disciplers, salt, light, and ambassadors of Christ.  As exiles waiting to go home, we seek the welfare of the city we are in.  In a republic, we can seek that welfare by casting our vote for government officials who represent us, not just as Americans but as the people of God.  Unfortunately, in the 2016 presidential election, there are no viable candidates who can do that.

The Crumbling Difference Between Wrong and Right

At the outset of election season, if not before, popular evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Robert Jeffress recognized that a presidential candidate who was representative of Kingdom values was not viable.  They backed Donald Trump, whose brash and aggressive nationalistic demeanor appealed to many of the same nominal evangelicals with whom their preaching resonated.  Intellectual evangelical leaders such as Albert Mohler and Russell Moore backed Marco Rubio, a morally conservative Roman Catholic with liberal socioeconomic leanings. In Rubio, they had a more electable candidate who could appeal to minorities and moderates while not compromising on abortion and marriage.  In either case, a utilitarian ethic seemed more applied than a biblical one.   Trump pretended to be a Christian but didn’t act like one.  Rubio walked the walk, but straight into the Roman Catholic Church.  Neither of these men were friends of God but they could supposedly be expected to be friends of Christians.  Thus, Christians backed them.  This sort of compromise was nothing new.  Just four years ago, many Christians backed Mitt Romney, a man who so blasphemes God that he believes he has the potential to be his equal.

Get Right to the Heart of Matters; it’s the Heart that Matters More

The Lord Jesus once said that the mouth spoke out of the abundance of the heart.  The things that have been spoken out of Donald Trump’s mouth indicate that his heart is no less dark than that of his primary opponent Hilary Clinton.  Hilary Clinton publicly supports abortion and “homosexual” marriage.  Trump, as a matter of political policy, does not.  It should be plain that he doesn’t do so as a matter of moral policy.  After all, God told the prophet Jeremiah that the heart is both sick and deceitful.  When it was politically expedient, Hilary Clinton in her own sick heart was against “gay marriage”.  Now she’s changed course.  No one should reasonably expect Trump to act any differently.  Somehow, Christians are under the impression that a wicked man will be righteous if only God’s people vote for him.  What folly.  These Christians should seriously consider the words of the departed Theologian, John Calvin who wrote, “They who rule unjustly and incompetently have been raised up by (God) to punish the wickedness of the people.”  These are alarming words when we consider that America is a representative Republic.  We rule ourselves.  That the President of the United States will almost certainly be Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton is actually an indictment on the hearts of the country’s people.  Many of these people claim Christ.  How can support for Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton come out of a Christian Heart?

I Wanna be Someone to Believe

Since its inception, social media has been rife with charges of hypocrisy which are leveled by non believers against Christians.  Sadly, these charges are often the result of one group of people, who don’t understand the Bible and don’t believe it, demonstrating disdain for another group of people, who don’t understand the Bible but do believe it.  In the case of Christian support for Donald Trump, the charges leveled against Christians by nonbelievers demonstrate rare cases of justified disgust.  Christians are being inconsistent to claim Christ on the one hand and support Donald Trump on the other.  Even those Christians who claim that they will “hold their nose” and vote for Trump only out of concern for the Supreme Court demonstrate a tragic lack of faith and baffling ignorance of history.  Prominent evangelical theologians Paige Patterson and Wayne Grudem have both condoned voting for Trump out of concern with keeping a Supreme Court nomination out of the hands of Hilary Clinton.  Theologians like Patterson and Grudem should be as aware as anyone that only God is omniscient.  We simply can’t know what kind of person Trump will put on the court.  Given his character and dark heart, we shouldn’t expect a Trump nominee to be someone with laudable moral virtues, much less a Christian worldview.  Additionally, history shows that the Supreme Court is no place to go for justice, as Dred Scott and every aborted baby since the Roe v Wade decision was handed down could testify…if they weren’t dead.  Personally, I want to maintain consistently as a part of my Christian witness.  Demonstrating a lack of faith in God by voting for Trump destroys that consistency and that witness.

It’s 4:30 A.M. on a Tuesday; It Doesn’t Get Much Worse Than This

An entire generation of aging American Christians were raised by parents who fought in World War II.  Their parents sacrificed and struggled to preserve freedom.  They celebrated America’s bicentennial in 1976 when their country was the world’s greatest bulwark against the totalitarian threat of the USSR.  These people cherish voting.  They have been rightly taught that their right to vote was preserved by the blood of their forbearers. In their churches, two flags are displayed to either side of the pulpit: one Christian and one American.  At their churches, on patriotic days, veterans stand to be honored.  They feel not only that they must vote but that their vote must be for a viable candidate.  For a long time they’ve danced to the tune of men like David Barton and the Falwells.  Some of them believe that American is God’s chosen nation.  It’s hard to tell where their patriotism ends and their Christianity begins.  Yet, they know voting for a man like Donald Trump will make them feel dirty.  In the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 8th, they will feel obligated to get up, go to their polling places, and choose between two evils…even though they don’t have to do so.

My friend implores me: “For one time only make an exception” – I am not worried

There are those Christians who plan to pull the lever for Trump but don’t feel like they are voting for him.  In defiance of logical and mathematical laws, they understand their vote to be cast, not for the candidate whose name they mark on the ballot, but against Hilary Clinton.  By keeping the Presidency away from Hilary, they feel, they are preserving the country for a future day when a truly favorable candidate will be provided.  Like Chicago Cubs St Louis Blues fans they think, “There’s always next year.”  To preserve that future day, they have to compromise their principles just this once.  The visible Christian church has seen a lot of compromise over the years.  None of it, it seems, has been for the better.

You Dig Yourself So Deep You Resist to Resist

Election is, sadly, a concept that many American evangelicals don’t seem to grasp.  Humans are born in such a depraved state that they can’t come to be reconciled to God on their own.  They are dug down so deep in their sin that only God can reach down to bring them up.  Despite having been brought to penitent faith by a merciful God, many American Christians want to somehow retain for themselves some kind of credit for their salvation.  It’s an insidious form of idolatry, that of self-determinism, which manifests itself in their lives in many ways.  One of these is election time.  Rather than trust in God by only voting for a candidate who meets His standards, they trust in their own wisdom to elect a candidate they think they can best control.  Somewhere between the sovereignty of God and the machinations of the god of this world, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton have been made available to American voters as viable candidates.  Christians don’t have a righteous choice between the two, yet the idolatry of self-determination will lead them to attempt to beat the square peg that is Donald Trump into round hole that is the Kingdom of God.

When I Think of Heaven

I certainly don’t want to be so heavenly-minded that I’m of no earthly good.  Yet, as an ambassador of Christ, there are just some things I can’t do.  The truth of the matter is, in my flesh, Donald Trump appeals to me.  He’s strong and he tells it like it us.  As President, he arguably would make American better, by some worldly standard, than Clinton would.  Unfortunately, my Sovereign is his enemy.  Before anything else, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s true that sometimes God has used pagan rulers to bring about his plans.  God could do that with Trump or Clinton.  He doesn’t need my help to do so.  When God’s judgment comes, and it will (and perhaps it will come through Trump or Clinton), I want to be found faithfully awaiting my King’s return rather than using my flesh to influence this world to my sinful nature’s liking.

I’m Down on My Knees

After the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized “gay marriage” in the USA, John MacArthur famously preached a sermon entitled “We Will Not Bow”.  Whatever the American culture demands of Christians, I know, will be quite different than what God demands.  I simply will not bow to the idols of this world or this country, no matter what the perceived threat to my liberty may be.  Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before me I will fix my hopes upon the Lord, to whom I will gladly bow upon His coming.  In the meantime, I will pray that His will be done.  Even if His will is that Donald Trump be elected, I know that it is not His will that I vote him in.

Here They Come to Steal My Soul

There is a very real threat that, if people like Hilary Clinton continue to be elected and that public school students continue to be conditioned to vote for those like her, the government will come and steal my property.  It may first steal my guns.  It may then steal my daughters through a draft and make them fight in its wars.  It may steal my money as well.  Who knows?  It can’t steal my soul.  Only I can give that away.  Looking for salvation from persecution by voting for Donald Trump would be the first step to doing so.  My Lord said that it does not benefit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul.  I believe Him.

The Big Top is Crumbling Down

American political theatre has become something of a circus, something of a show.  I perceive a dearth of any substantial, non partisan news reporting.  I also perceive a dearth of the demand for such.  Presidential debates seem to be little more than a dressed up Jerry Springer Show.  John Adams famously said that the American Government was designed for a religious and moral people.  The American populace is neither.  When I think of my vote and of the dismal future of the United States, I want to be able to look at and say “I’m not the father” of that.  I can’t tell my children and grandchildren that I voted for Donald Trump. As long as there are items on the ballot that will allow me to vote my conscience, I will.  At the same time, I see that politics is becoming more and more of a show that I don’t want to watch.  America has passed the tipping point, in my opinion.  I hope the church won’t tip over along with it.

We Were Perfect When We Started

Humankind was without sin in the Garden of Eden.  There is coming a time when this world will again be without sin.  I so want to walk with my Savior in an Eden restored.  My trust is there even though its land I don’t yet see.  It’s a land I long for.  That land is my land but it may not be yours.  For those people reading this who haven’t trusted Jesus Christ as their savior, I want to urge you to do so.  Chariots and Horses eventually break down.  So do governments.  So do people.  You are seeing a lot of Christians depending on the wrong things right now.  If you don’t know Jesus, you are, too.  I want to tell you that you can cast your cares upon him.  When you do, the things of this world will grow strangely dim…and your heart and mind will grow strangely bright.  Repenting of your sins will free you.  I hope you will join me in the booth to vote for someone other than Trump and Clinton.  What I really hope, though, is that you’ll join me in the Kingdom under the Lordship of Christ.  I hope His love and mercy will overcome you.  A lot of times, like this one, we don’t have an option to vote for love and mercy in the voting booth.  It’s always available for Jesus.  It is He who has elected to show it to us.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

mormonism101

MCKEEVER AND JOHNSON’S MORMONISM 101: A REVIEW

Who are McKeever and Johnson?

Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson are on staff at Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM), an organization dedicated to “propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to critically evaluating the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity”[1] This has been an interest of McKeever since his conversion to Christianity in 1973.  Having been raised in area of Southern California that “has a high LDS population,”[2] McKeever became interested in the evangelism of his Mormon[3] friends and neighbors upon his conversion.[4]  This interest led to his founding of Mormonism Research Ministry in 1979.  He has written three books on the subject of Mormonism.  Johnson holds a Master of Divinity from Bethel Seminary and has contributed to several Christian apologetics resources, in addition to being the co-author of Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter Day Saints with Bill McKeever.  Johnson’s interest in Mormonism began in “1987 when he served with Youth with a Mission at a summer Utah outreach.”[5]

The Book’s Purpose: Examining the Latter Day Saints

Its authors opened up the expanded edition of Mormonism 101 by sharing the accounts of two notable and recent Mormon speeches.  The first was given in 2012 by (LDS) Apostle Robert D. Hales at a Mormon general conference and was entitled “Being a More Christian Christian”. (9)  The second was given by popular American political commentator Glenn Beck at a Liberty University[6] student body convocation in 2014.  Beck echoed Hales by claiming that Mormonism was a part of the Christian religion.  Beck stated to his Christian audience, “I share your faith. I am from a different denomination and a denomination quite honestly that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty feel uncomfortable. I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.” (10)  This is a claim, a rather pertinent one given that the Mormon Church boasts worldwide membership of 15,634,199[7], with which McKeever and Johnson disagree.  These two Christian men, who have “spent a combined total of more than seven decades studying the religion of the Latter-day Saints,” (10) wrote Mormonism 101 out of their “concern for those who belong to the LDS faith as well as for those Christians who want to better engage Latter-day Saints in healthy dialogue.” (15)  Written from a “conservative Protestant-Christian” (14) perspective that holds that Bible as an “authoritative guide” (15), Mormonism 101 provides information about and an examination of the theology, history, and practice of the LDS religion.

LDS Theology, History, and Practice

Mormonism 101 is presented in six parts, each which examines a specific concept of Mormon theology.  These concepts include: God, Humankind, Scripture, Salvation, Ordinances, and Revelation.  Each of the six parts contains three chapters.  Nearly every chapter begins with a section of “Mormonese” [8] words, which are terms with theological meanings specific to the LDS religion.  Neither the six parts nor their associated chapters are presented in any chronological order and are meant to stand on their own as a source of relevant information about the LDS.  At the same time, the six parts combine to form what is essentially a systematic theology of the Latter Day Saint religion, as well as a concise history of the LDS church.[9]

God

There is a triune Godhead which includes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  However, unlike that of Christianity, the LDS Godhead consists of three gods who are distinct beings.  These gods are neither eternal nor immutable.  God the Father (also known as “Heavenly Father” and “Elohim”) has a physical body and has progressed from a state of mortality to godhood.  Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde explained the Mormon concept of God by stating, “God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is.” (35)  Christ, “the Son” is the son of God in more ways the one.  As Jehovah, he is the first born spirit child Heavenly Father and his wife, Heavenly Mother.  As the human Jesus, he is the result of physical copulation between Elohim and “the virgin” Mary.   The Holy Ghost is merely a spirit being who influences the world.

Humankind

All humans preexisted on or near a planet named Kolob as spirit children of Heavenly Father and their Heavenly Mother.   This preexistence is known as “the first estate.”  Mortal existence on earth is known as the “second estate” and existence in the various states of the afterlife is known as the “third estate”.  Demons, too, existed as spirit children in the first estate.  However, they rebelled against Heavenly Father at the behest of their spirit brother Lucifer (the devil) during this period.  This rebellion was a rejection of the accepted plan, formulated by a council of gods on Kolob, for the creation, population, and salvation of Earth.  According to this plan, Elohim’s spirit children were to be sent to earth, for the purpose of testing and maturation, and given mortal human bodies; an essential aspect of the plan was the ability of a human to make a free choice to follow or reject God upon their arrival to Earth.  Lucifer insisted upon an alternate plan which denied free choice; he and his followers (the demons) were cast down to Earth without bodies for this act of insurrection.  The first humans to populate the earth, Adam and Eve, fell into sin because of their willful disobedience in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus was sent to enact Elohim’s plan of salvation for humankind.  In doing so, he founded the church.  Unfortunately, the church Jesus started disappeared after the death of his original Apostles and was absent during a 1,700 year period known as “The Great Apostasy” until it was restored by LDS founder Joseph Smith in 1830.

Scripture

The eighth LDS article of faith proclaims the King James Bible (KJV) to be authoritative scripture “as far as it is translated correctly” (112).  This terminology is misleading given that Mormons actually have doubts about the correct transmission of the Biblical text.  Whatever the correct terminology is, the reality is that Mormons have serious doubts about the reliability of the Biblical text.  LDS leadership has stated that “the most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations” (112).  Along with the KJV, The Book of Mormon is one of four “standard works” that the LDS consider to be authoritative scriptures.  The other two are The Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). The Pearl of Great Price includes sections of the biblical books of Genesis and Matthew (as interpreted by Joseph Smith), excerpts from Joseph Smith’s LDS testimony, LDS articles of faith written by Smith, and “The Book of Abraham” which is Smith’s translation of ancient Egyptian papyri containing an account of the Jewish patriarch.[10]  The D&C “consists of revelations and teachings that Mormon leaders (especially Joseph Smith) received from God” (140).  This part of the Mormon scriptural canon is open given that current LDS leadership is able to add to it if new revelations[11] from God are received.

Salvation

Atonement and repentance are key concepts in Mormon soteriology.  This, too, is true of biblical Christianity. However, the Mormon concepts of atonement and repentance are quite different from those of biblical Christianity.  The atonement took place, not upon the cross, but in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus sweated blood. “The atonement allows people to be resurrected and gain eternal life if they repent and keep the commandments.  Repentance is the process by which a member (of the LDS Church) receives forgiveness.” (155)  Not only does repentance include a confession of sins but successfully abandoning them.  Salvation, because it is contingent on keeping God’s commandments, is works-based.  It is also multi-faceted.  There are three degrees, or levels, of heaven.  The highest degree is the celestial kingdom, where faithful Mormons can be exalted to godhood. The lower two degrees are the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms; these levels are reserved for “lukewarm”[12] Mormons and the world’s wicked people, respectively.   Outer Darkness, which is essentially Hell, is reserved for Satan, demons, and apostate Mormons.

Ordinances

As is the case with Protestant Christian churches, there are two primary LDS church ordinances: baptism and the sacrament.  The latter ordinance is similar in practice and intent to the Christian practice of observing the Lord’s Supper; however, it utilizes different elements.  Mormons observe the sacrament in their weekly church services by ingesting bread and water.  The earliest Mormons used wine to observe the sacrament until an 1830 revelation received by Joseph Smith proscribed its use.[13]  Mormon baptism is a “saving ordinance” that “must be administered by one who has proper authority from God”.  (220)  Unless one is baptized, he cannot enter the celestial kingdom.  A baptism is not valid unless it is witnessed by two men who hold the Melchizedek priesthood,[14] is done according to the baptismal formula specified by the D&C, and completely immerses in water the person being baptized.  In addition to practicing baptism for living church members, Mormons also perform baptismal rites for dead people within their ornate and secretive temples.   Proxy baptisms for the dead are performed in the hopes of opening up the possibility of salvation to those people who never had a chance to hear the Mormon gospel during their lives.  In addition to performing baptisms for the dead, Mormons also engage in a number of other religious rights inside of their temples.  It is within Mormon temples that marriages are sealed for eternity.  LDS outsiders are not allowed inside of Mormon temples.  Only Mormons who have completed an interview process and been deemed worthy of a temple endowment may enter an LDS temple and participate in the various and important ceremonies that within take.

Revelation

The LDS religion is founded upon the various revelations received by its founding prophet, Joseph Smith.  In the early 1800s a prayerful Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and God the Son instructed not to join any of the extant Christian churches because they were corrupt.  Sometime after this visit, the young Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni.  Moroni was the descendent of ancient Jews who had left Israel before the fall of Jerusalem into Babylonian hands and sailed to the Americas.  With Moroni’s guidance, Smith was able to retrieve a set of golden plates which contained the recorded the history of Moroni’s people and provided another testament of Jesus Christ.  Smith, using special seer stones, translated these plates from their ancient language (a theretofore undiscovered language known as “Reformed Egyptian”) into English.  This translation became known as The Book of Mormon.  Smith garnered a large following of religious converts and led the Mormon Church as its prophet until his death at the hands of an angry mob in 1844.  Since his death, the Mormon Church has been led by a series of living prophets known as “Presidents” of the church.  The LDS President is supported by a quorum of 12 Apostles selected from among faithful Mormon men.  According to Mormon teaching, “the words of the living prophet have more importance than the standard works.” (312)  Mormons are strongly encouraged not to criticize LDS church leaders.

Mormonism 101 and Christianity 102

In Mormonism 101, McKeever and Johnson did a fair and thorough job of providing overview of Mormon theology and history, often from primary sources.  In addition to explaining Mormon beliefs, McKeever and Johnson compared Mormon theology to biblical teaching in each chapter of their book.  The Christian reader of Mormonism 101 will not only learn about the aberrant nature of LDS theology but be provided with specific biblical bases by which to refute it.  Nearly every biblical doctrine perverted by Mormon teaching has been correctly explained and supported with biblical evidence by McKeever and Johnson within the pages of Mormonism 101.  In addition to providing a theological review of Mormonism, McKeever and Johnson provided information about the historic flip-flops (most notably on the issue of plural marriage) of Mormon leadership, especially those of Joseph Smith.  The controversial, dishonest, and mischievous life of the original Mormon prophet and his successive leadership is laid bare within chapters 17 and 18 of Mormonism 101.  By excoriating LDS leadership at the end of their book, McKeever and Johnson have done their Mormon readership a service.  Mormons are programmed not to think ill of current of past LDS leadership, especially Smith. By first demonstrating the unbiblical, untenable, and often arbitrary nature of Mormon doctrine, McKeever and Johnson have made it easier for LDS members to doubt the character of the leadership of their church.  McKeever and Johnson also did a service to Christian readers who wish to witness to their Mormon neighbors by providing them with a list of fallacious arguments commonly used by Mormons to defend their beliefs from criticism.  Overall, Mormonism 101 is a fine book.  It should edify any Christian who reads it and plant biblical seeds of doubt in the mind of any Mormon who is willing to compare the teachings of his church with biblical doctrine.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Facts and Statistics.” Newsroom. September 01, 2016. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics (accessed September 18, 2016).

McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Revised and Expanded ed. Baker Books, 2015.

—. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Ebook edition. Baker Books, 2015.

Mormonism Research Ministry. “About Us.” Mormonism Research Ministry. http://www.mrm.org/about (accessed September 19, 2016).

—. “Testimony of Bill McKeever.” http://www.mrm.org/bill-mckeever (accessed September 18, 2016).

 

[1]Ministries, Mormon Research. “About Us.” http://www.mrm.org/about. http://www.mrm.org/about (accessed September 19, 2016).

[2] —. “Testimony of Bill McKeever.” http://www.mrm.org/bill-mckeever (accessed September 18, 2016).

[3] Members of the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (LDS) are commonly known as “Mormons”

[4] McKeever himself is not a former Mormon.  His conversion to Christianity was from a general irreligious state.  His video testimony can be found at http://www.mrm.org/bill-fronthttp://www.mrm.org/bill-front.

[5] Ministries, Mormon Research. “About Us.”

[6]Liberty University has long been known as an institution steeped in conservative Baptist theology.  It was founded as “Lynchburg Baptist College” in 1971 by Thomas Road Baptist Church and its fundamentalist pastor, Jerry Falwell.  (http://www.liberty.edu/aboutliberty/index.cfm?PID=33803) According to the school’s own website, it is the “world’s largest Christian University  (http://www.liberty.edu/).

[7] Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Facts and Statistics.” Newsroom. September 01, 2016. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics (accessed September 18, 2016).

 

[8] Some of these words are identical to Christian theological terms in spelling and pronunciation but insidiously different in meaning.

[9] In the six subsections below, I provide a summary of LDS theology as explained in Mormonism 101.  The theology is explained as the LDS teaches it.  The language with which I explain LDS doctrines and claims should not be confused with an affirmation of those doctrines and claims.  These doctrines and claims are ably refuted, from a biblical perspective, by McKeever and Johnson throughout the various chapters of Mormonism 101.

[10] The ancient Egyptian papyri which Smith “translated” were later identified by Egyptologists as documents describing funeral rites.  These documents were dated to a period hundreds of years later than the time Abraham lived. (see page 146 of Mormonism 101)

[11] These are the “modern-day revelations” referred to above.

[12] To be “lukewarm” is to believe LDS doctrine but fail to live it out its requirements successfully.  See page 202 for more detail.

[13] Specifically the use of wine purchased from enemies is proscribed.  A later revelation to Smith allowed for wine to be used if it is of Mormon making.  Since the Mormons are a teetotaling people, such a product is not easily available and water continues to be used to observe the sacrament.  See pages 218-219 for more detail.

[14] There are two priesthoods in Mormonism: the Aaronic priesthood, which can be held by qualified males of at least 12 years of age, and the Melchizedek priesthood, which can be held by qualified males of at least 18 years of age.  These priesthoods where originally conferred on Joseph Smith by various biblical figures.  See page 9 for details.