INTRODUCTION “REALLY Inside Mormonism – Confessions of a Mere Latter-day Christian” -by Robert Starling When the candidate announced
his intention to run for the office of President of the United States, there were many who felt he was well qualified for the job. He was handsome, charismatic, a proven leader, and he had already been elected to a substantial political office. However, despite his qualifications and the support of a large number of sympathetic voters in at least one western state, many political pundits felt his candidacy was doomed from the start because of the man's affiliation with a religion that was considered strange and mysterious to many, and even dangerous to some people. In an attempt to alleviate some of the misunderstandings about his faith, the candidate wrote a letter to a major publisher that was considered a well-formed position paper, explaining the salient points of his beliefs and those of other members of his church. Unfortunately the major media did not help to publicize the explanation of the candidate's beliefs and tragic miscarriages of justice arose. Even government entities violated numerous Constitutional rights of the candidate and his followers. At one point an official order was given to exterminate them if they did not leave the state where their majority population resided. Eventually corrupt local officials arrested the candidate on trumped-up charges and placed him in a jail where a terroristic mob of thugs broke in and assassinated him and his brother. Denied government protection from roving mobs of armed men, tens of thousands of members of this Presidential candidate's faith were routed from heir homes at gunpoint, their beautiful homes and lands and businesses were confiscated, and they were forced to leave the boundaries of the United States to find a place where they eventually could live their religion in peace. Does this sound like a fantastic fictional story? In point of fact it is actually, horribly true. It happened in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. The year was 1844. the candidate was Joseph Smith, the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the “Mormons”. The purpose of this book is to try to illuminate and eliminate (and hopefully overcome) some of the kinds of misunderstandings that led to those tragic events of a century and a half ago. Sadly, many of those misconceptions about members of the “LDS” church are still in evidence today. As an example: A volunteer campaign worker for Senator John McCain said during the run-up to the 2008 Presidential campaign that “Mormons gave money to Hamas terrorists and treat women like the Taliban”. This book's purpose is not to preach or to proselytize, or to convert people away from their own beliefs to join my church. Nor it is to be an official pronouncement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is my personal confession of faith, and an attempt to “bring forth my strong reasons” (Isaiah 41:21) for my beliefs, and “to give an answer to every man... a reason for the hope that is in me” (1 Peter 3:15).
“Having a good conscience”, I feel a need to follow the Apostle Peter's admonition to speak out and share my beliefs with any and all interested parties. Before I go too far down this road, let me admit up front that I don’t have a string of letters like Ph.D. or Th.D. or L.L.D., or Doctor of Divinity after my name. (Although I have an uncle who does -- he's retired now after a long and happy career as a United Methodist pastor.) I’m just a good ol’ boy from Georgia, but I can read Scripture just like anyone else, and there are some things that seem to me to be pretty self-evident before those divinity school guys start working their scholarly hocus-pocus on the text. (A quick aside: this reminds me of a little poem I heard…)
A young theologian named Fiddle refused to accept his degree “It's bad enough being named Fiddle” said he, ”Without being Fiddle, D.D.”
That having been said, perhaps you as my reader should beware. C.S. Lewis did not want to become a believer in God or in Christ, but as he wrote in Surprised by Joy, "In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.... God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." In reading Starling, you can’t be too careful either. You may not want to become a Mormon but if you carefully and prayerfully read what I’ve written here, well … I’m not gonna be responsible for the results. That’s totally between you and the Holy Spirit. WHY DO I CALL MY BOOK REALLY INSIDE MORMONISM? Well originally I wasn’t going to use the “really” in my title. The rest of it I’ve been using as a working title for almost 20 years (yeah, it’s taken me a while to finish it) and I’m kinda fond of that title (catchy, isn’t it?). But then I found that a Catholic priest named Isaiah Bennett had renounced Catholicism and was baptized into the LDS church, then left to go back to the Roman church after a year or two. Both he and his wife (yes, he got married) participated in that alleged conversion/de-conversion experience. He then wrote a book called “Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe”. I happened to get a chance to hear “Brother” Bennett speak to an LDS audience during the time that he was a “Mormon”, and I thought he gave a pretty convincing talk about how he became a member of my faith. I’m not going to accuse him of a “conversion of convenience” so that he could write an expose’ book, but I can see where some folks might think the situation might look kinda fishy. He was only a Mormon for a few years, whereas I’ve been a member of the LDS Church all my life (58 years in 2012 since my baptism). My father served on the first High Council in the first stake organized in Georgia. I’ve held almost every LDS Church office at the local level except Bishop, and I’ve had several Stake and Area callings including Stake Mission President. I worked professionally as a writer/ producer/ director at Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City for nine years in the media production department. I received my BA from Brigham Young University, where I attended college for three years. So I’ve “really” been “inside Mormonism” for many decades. That’s where the “really” in the title comes from. Really. WHAT IS A “CONFESSION” If you watch many detective TV shows you may think a “confession” is when a bad guy admits to doing something wrong. That’s usually the modern day usage of the word and was part of the tone of The Confessions of St. Augustine. But in other times the meaning was closer to “profession”, like a “profession” of one’s faith. Such was the Westminster Confession (1644) or the 1689 Baptist Confession
of Faith. I admit to using it here because it makes for a jazzy title. But hey, that’s one way to sell more books, right? I hope it works. WHAT IS A “MERE” CHRISTIAN? Since I began writing this book I’ve also revised my original working title to include the word “mere”. I did this after reading C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” and I did it in homage to the great wisdom and eloquence of that wonderful Christian writer and apologist. C. S. Lewis has become one of my heroes. He defined “mere” disciples or Christians as “those who accepted the teachings of the apostles” (Acts 11:26). He said that “if we once allow people to start spiritualizing and refining or as they might say ‘deepening’ the word Christian, it … will speedily become a useless word.” He described “mere” Christianity as being more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms (or denominations). His goal was simply to bring people into the hall, not to convince them which door to open. He said, “even in the hall you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house”. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which one pleases you best by its paint and paneling.” He says the “mere” Christian must ask of a “door” he might plan to enter; “Are these doctrines true? Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?” Then finally he adds, “When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.” After reading Lewis’s book I believe that in the eyes of my Christian brothers and sisters I should at least be considered a “mere” Christian, for I do indeed accept the teachings and essential beliefs of the apostles as found in the New Testament. The founder of my own chosen “room” Joseph Smith once said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven: and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." Even the most ardent critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seem to focus mostly on the “appendages” of our faith to find differences with their own beliefs, since our “fundamental principles” of Christ, his death and resurrection are nearly identical with those of other “mere” Christians. But I’m not a Baptist Christian or Methodist Christian or Presbyterian Christian or a Lutheran Christian, nor do I claim to be. I’m not a Protestant Christian, an Evangelical Christian or a Catholic Christian. Therefore I am not a “traditional” or “historic” or “orthodox” or “reformed” Christian. But I AM a “Biblical” and a “New Testament” Christian. I sometimes refer to myself as a “pre-Catholic” Christian. I believe in a Christianity that was established by Jesus himself hundreds of years before “historic” or “traditional” Christianity existed. This original Christianity was lost after the deaths of the original apostles, but then it was restored to the earth in these “latter days” in its fullness as part of the “restitution of all things” the Bible says must take place before the Second Coming of Christ (Acts 3:21). This “restitution” or restoration was necessary because of the “falling away” from the original teachings of Christ and His apostles that Paul lamented in his second letter to the Thessalonians (chapter 2 verse 3). The “falling away” or “apostasy” became even more pronounced during the centuries of the “dark ages” of human history that have been well-documented and that were foreseen by the prophet Amos as a time
when there would be a “famine” of the word of God and men would “run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it”. (Amos 8:11-12) The great Reformers like Martin Luther and others recognized that the “faith once delivered to the saints” had been corrupted almost beyond recognition. Luther wrote: “I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it – the bishops and scholars”.1 Although he and other brave men did their best to reform the Christian faith as they knew it, our Savior said that new wine in old bottles or new patches on old clothes were not enough. The Protestant Reformation did however bring about some measure of religious freedom that paved the way eventually for the “restitution of all things” -- the restoration of Christ’s original New Testament church to the earth. THE TERM “LATTER-DAY CHRISTIAN” I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My predecessors in New Testament times call themselves "saints." Outsiders used the term "Christian" to describe them with derision. That name stuck and gradually became a generic term, synonymous with that of "Saint." In the return to biblical practice and combined with the recognition that we're living in what the scriptures refer to as the last days, or "the latter times" I and fellow members of my faith call ourselves "Latter-day Saints." Like our spiritual forefathers who “were first called Christians at Antioch”, we too are known by a term coined and used often disrespectfully by outsiders. We're often called "Mormons." And like the "former-day" Saints of the New Testament Church, we too have acquiesced to the terminology and have (at least passively) accepted the name. But to be a bit more precise as I begin this book I’ve decided also to call myself a "Latter-day Christian," to clearly emphasize my faith as a follower of Jesus Christ As I attempt to “bring forth my strong reasons” for thus believing, I invite the curious reader to come along on what I guarantee will be an enlightening and definitely NOT a boring journey. CAN YOU HANDLE THIS BOOK? Maybe it comes from my Southern roots in Georgia, but I guess I’m a bit of what some might call a Christian Rebel. Not that I rebel against Christ. I love and adore Him as my Lord and my Savior. But I do like to stir things up a bit among my fellow Christians. Especially the ones Amy Grant refers to in her song “Fat Baby”. You know… the ones who love their “bottle” of Christian “milk”, but whose comfort zone doesn’t extend much farther than that. Amy says they’ve “sampled solid food once or twice, but doctrine leaves them cold as ice”. Paul said sort of the same thing to Christians in a Scriptural context when he said: “ye have need that one teach you again … the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” (Heb. 5:12-14) Getting back to those “Fat Baby” Christians: Amy sings, “I know a man, maybe you know him, too. You never can tell, he might even be you…”. These are the folks I’m reminded of by a scene in the movie “A Few Good Men”, when Tom Cruise tells Jack Nicholson, ”I want the truth!”, and Jack yells back, “You can’t handle the truth!” Well buckle your seat belts and get out your forks and steak knives, brothers and sisters. It’s time to try a little high protein diet! You can handle that, right? - - - - -- Robert Starling firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Tyler, John Murray. Martin Luther, a Biographical Study (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1964