It doesn’t start well: “What’s with Anti-Mormons these days? It seems like someone has turned up the heat a couple of notches. Either that, or they are getting increasingly desperate. Or both, I guess.” Unfortunately, it only goes downhill from there.
Ever since Is the Mormon My Brother? was released by Bethany House Publishers in November of 1997, I have waited to see what kind of meaningful response it would garner from LDS authors. I was particularly interested because of the nature of the work: it is very focused upon the central issue (that being the nature of God). The first chapters present a lengthy, tremendously fair presentation of the LDS doctrine of God. The sources used are exclusively LDS—the General Authorities of the Church, publications copyrighted by the First Presidency, the LDS Scriptures, etc. The biblical response to the LDS position is concise and straightforward. The included discussion of How Wide the Divide? asks many penetrating questions of Stephen Robinson’s presentation. What is more, the work avoids unnecessarily inflammatory language. It is, to any even semi-unbiased reader, a tremendously fair discussion of a vital issue. It is written firmly from the Evangelical perspective, and the conclusions drawn are hardly surprising. But the work strives to make sure that any reader is fully informed as to why and how the conclusions presented are derived from the data examined.
How would LDS reviewers respond to a fair, thorough discussion of the single greatest difference between historic Christianity and LDS teaching? I hoped that some would seriously interact with the book, but, I was also aware that such interactions have been very rare with other fine works written by other Christian writers. So far, my fears have been realized fully: the responses, few as they have been, have been nothing short of simply miserable.
Complimentary copies of the book were sent to Brigham Young University professors Stephen Robinson, Daniel Peterson, and William Hamblin. I would like to think that the recent deluge of simply incredible e-mails from BYU are not representative of any kind of “response” to the work, but I have to admit a certain level of suspicion (click here to see examples). Given the tremendously surface-level review presented by FARMS of my first work on Mormonism, Letters to a Mormon Elder (click here for information on this review), I hope that whatever appears in the future regarding Is the Mormon My Brother? will prove more worthwhile. However, given that Mr. Darryl. L. Barksdale has indicated that he will be writing that review, the original work by L. Ara Norwood may prove the most scholarly and in-depth response I will ever see from FARMS.
While teaching an intensive summer course on Christian philosophy and apologetics on the campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California, I received an e-mail note from LDSApolog@aol.com —Mr. Barksdale—announcing the fact that he had just completed a review of Is the Mormon My Brother? and inviting me to his website (www.fair-lds.org). He also informed me that I was on the “cover” of the June issue of his publication. So, I went to his site and downloaded the referenced article. Since I had encountered Mr. Barksdale in electronic forums, I feared the worst. And my fears were realized.
Mr. Barksdale indicates that his full review will be posted in the next edition of his publication (“I’ll fight the temptation to pick it apart here, and will defer that to next month’s newsletter”). But if the level of simple dishonesty that is found in this brief commentary is any indication of what is to come, we can only hope that he will think better of the project. Let’s look at some of the incredible commentary provided by Darryl Barksdale in his article titled “Is James White Our Brother”?
It seems that all LDS apologists have signed a compact: we will emulate our Roman Catholic brothers in using the “anti” label of everyone that we don’t like, and wish to marginalize (without dealing with the substance of what they have to say). Rather than taking the high road, Mr. Barksdale follows after the FARMS path of showing great disrespect for those with whom there is a disagreement. While my works refer to BYU writers as “LDS apologists” and not “anti-Baptists” or “anti-Christians,” BYU writers, and Mr. Barksdale, refuse to return the favor, preferring to excite the emotions and play to the audience by using such terms as “anti-Mormons.” I would propose to the fair reader that the use of such terminology indicates a lack of seriousness on the part of the person using it. I look forward to reviews by those who will have the temerity to reject this path, and who will instead refer to those who reject LDS claims by terms that accurately reflect who they are and what they do.
Throughout this brief article, Barksdale attempts to paint me as angry, mean-spirited, and vengeful. He portrays a supernatural ability to interpret my emotional state and motivations, though, he never indicates just how he is able to do this. Note the next paragraphs:
One example of this can be seen in James White’s new book Is The Mormon My Brother? White is furious that Craig Blomberg, Ph.D., and Stephen Robinson, Ph.D., collaborated on a work titled How Wide The Divide? A Mormon and Evangelical in Conversation, published last year by Intervarsity Press.
White is appalled at the notion that Mormons and Evangelicals should speak to one another. He dearly wishes that we wouldn’t. And so, lest any hapless Evangelical foolishly surmise that such a dialogue is in any way beneficial, and being unsatisfied with writing a scathing review of HWTD? for CRI, he seemingly felt the need to write an entire book devoted to why Mormon theology is just plain sick and wrong.
Note the terms “furious” “appalled” “dearly wishes” “foolishly surmise” “scathing review” and “just plain sick,” and all within only a few lines! The motivation for such writing is easy to determine: the book provides Mr. Barksdale with a calm, fair and very biblically-based discussion of the central issue that separates Mormonism from Christianity: but, if his readers are going to read the book (and it would be my guess that such a review would hardly motivate them to do so), it is always best to poison the well before they run into such a fair discussion of the issue.
Of course, I doubt very much if Mr. Barksdale contacted Craig Blomberg to see if, in fact, I had been “furious” with him when I spoke with him before writing my “scathing” CRI review. I have informed Mr. Barksdale, electronically, that I not only called Blomberg and spoke to him for an hour on the phone, but I sent him my review, asked for his comments, and incorporated his suggestions into the final draft. Hardly the actions of someone who is “furious” and “appalled.”
And, as Mr. Barksdale further knows, my problem with How Wide the Divide has to do not with having a dialogue, but with the fact that the LDS position was not fully or accurately presented by the book. Hence, there is simply nothing of substance in these paragraphs, outside of a rather blatant attempt to portray the work in the worst possible light.
I note in passing that while I most certainly say that LDS theology is wrong, I did so only after carefully defining that theology from official sources—-and Mr. Barksdale admits that he is not an official representative of the LDS Church. I never identified it as “sick,” I identified it as false. I did not use any stronger terms in my rejection of LDS claims than LDS writers have used in rejecting historic Christianity.
Does Mr. Barksdale interact at all with the fact that this work expends a tremendous amount of time documenting the LDS position? No, instead, the old “straw-man” claim is made yet once again: without a single shred of documentation to back it up. Here are the comments:
In this book, in true form, White elaborately sets up an imposing straw man to rip apart and burn, building his entire premise on the fact that LDS Theology differs from what he terms “Christian Orthodoxy”.
I guess we shall have to wait for the full review to know how it is possible to set up a “straw man” by merely quoting in context the leaders of the LDS Church, but I will make a prediction: Mr. Barksdale refuses to be held accountable to anything but LDS Scripture. Hence, even though his own church speaks of latter-day revelation, the priesthood authority, living prophets and apostles, etc., and even though I provided a thorough foundation for the use of all the sources cited, this will be his main point: that Mormons cannot be held accountable for Joseph Smith, their Temple ceremonies, or for anything taught by their apostles and prophets. Let the reader decide who is erecting a straw man.
Poisoning the Well
Above I made the charge that this article by Mr. Barksdale is nothing more than an attempt to poison the well. He is attempting to set up his longer review, which he promises to post soon. This is plainly borne out by the following:
Suffice it to say, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves, in this book White resorts to the kind of bitter, name-calling schoolyard charm that has made him a household name among the Counter-Cult Culture. He calls us “cultists”. He calls us “idolators”. And he absolutely refuses to call us “Christians”.
Such phrases as “bitter, name-calling schoolyard charm” have become standard fare for LDS apologists, though, as the facts show, the term describes their own behavior, not mine. Any person who has read Is the Mormon My Brother? has to sit back in amazement at such dishonesty. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Note the allegation that “he calls us ‘cultists’.” I did a search of the electronic files on my computer system for the word “cultist.” It appears exactly one time in the entire book, and in a context that is almost humorous, given Mr. Barksdale’s desperate attempt to misrepresent the work. It is the same passage that attracted the attention of Professor Midgley as well, a passage in which I am talking about others who take an improper attitude toward the task at hand:
There are many others, however, who have no doubts whatsoever about the LDS faith in general, and Mormons in particular. “It’s a devil-inspired cult” they say, “and that’s all there is to it.” For many, Mormons are simply polygamous cultists, out to destroy the souls of anyone unwary enough to be caught in their clutches. Yet many who would provide the strongest denunciations of LDS theology and practice are the very ones who have done the least work in seriously studying LDS writings, and interacting with LDS viewpoints. Therefore, a large body of literature exists that is based not so much on fair, even-handed study of primary source documentation, but upon a very large dose of emotion and bias. Such literature normally emphasizes the sensational, seeking to arouse the emotions of the reader against the LDS faith. Modern LDS apologists and scholars like to focus upon such literature, often treating it as if it is the “norm” for all Christians, and have little difficulty demonstrating inconsistencies and half-truths, thereby dismissing all efforts at refuting LDS claims and evangelizing the LDS people. But for those who find in Mormonism the very embodiment of evil itself, there is little reason to even ask the question, “Is Mormonism Christian?” And there is even less reason to spend any time at all fairly evaluating the arguments of LDS scholars on the topic.
As anyone can see who is expending any effort at all to be fair in reading what I have written, I am decrying such attitudes as the one I am addressing here. Hence, where in my book do I merely right of Mormons as “cultists” as Mr. Barksdale has asserted? It is obvious that it is his desire that his readers believe that the book is filled with invective and insult—yet, anyone who reads it knows differently.
Next, he speaks of calling Mormons “idolators.” That term appears once in the entire book—in an endnote—quoting someone else—about pagan idolaters in the days of Jeremiah. Perhaps Mr. Barksdale was just a little over-zealous, and meant to say that I spoke often, in the chapter on the biblical teaching concerning God, of idolatry? And I most assuredly did. But, of course, it does not have nearly the emotional impact to say “James White contrasted LDS belief in a plurality of gods with biblical monotheism, and concluded that to worship the god presented by Joseph Smith would be idolatry.” In fact, if he dared note that before coming to such a conclusion I spent over 100 pages making sure we knew what the LDS position was, and then took the time to carefully present numerous biblical passages that contradict the LDS position, his entire thesis would be destroyed, and he might actually find himself having to admit that the book is just the opposite of what he wishes it would be.
But since the charge is made, here are the results of a search of the chapter titled “The God Christians Worship” regarding the term “idolatry”:
Even though He taught His people from the start that He alone was God, the people of Israel were constantly falling into idolatry. Centuries after Moses, Isaiah was the mouthpiece God used to make some of His highest statements about Himself and His relationship to our world. Seeing that the people of Israel were steeped in idolatry, and were constantly being lured away from single-hearted devotion to Him, Yahweh convenes a “court,” and puts the gods of the peoples on trial.
But God’s purpose is plain: “There is no God besides Me.” Idolatry is inherently foolish simply because there is no worthy object of worship other than the one true God, Yahweh Elohim, or as it normally appears in the English text, the LORD God.
God takes His truth very seriously. This is not a matter of theological finery, it is the difference between idolatry and worship, salvation and eternal punishment. Joseph Smith has led millions to follow “gods whom you have not known.” Did not Smith himself say that we had imagined and supposed that God “was God from all eternity”? And is this not exactly what God is saying in these passages in Scripture? Yet Smith went on to say, “I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.” These are the words of a false prophet, and God’s view of false prophets is plainly stated in verse 5 above.
This is the only God worthy of worship and adoration. And God expects us to know this truth—He upbraids those who have forgotten by asking, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” That this has always been known is plainly proclaimed. There is no excuse for idolatry, no defense for polytheism. In comparison with the true God, earth’s inhabitants are “like grasshoppers.” Are we truly to believe this is being said of an “exalted man” who was once a mortal like you and I?
The true God is not liable to representation by the physical universe, for He is invisible, and infinite, and hence incapable of comparison with anything in the created order, which must be, by nature, finite. This brings us to the very nature of idolatry, for to represent God in any way that is untrue is, at its root, an act of idolatry.
As strong as it may sound, we cannot possibly be honest with the biblical evidence and teaching, and the statements of LDS leaders we have examined, and not honestly warn our LDS friends that to worship the God of Joseph Smith is, quite simply, to engage in idolatry. To even think of God in terms of a creature, a man, is to denigrate His being beyond words. To worship any god other than the one true God who made all things, likewise, is to place one’s very soul in eternal peril.
The sin of idolatry includes thinking of God in human categories. This is not to say that God has not used human terminology to express Himself and His existence—surely He has. But we are warned over and over again not to think of God as if He were a creature like us.
Man slips down the slope into idolatry when he views himself in any way other than as the creature of God, bound by his creation itself to live in such a way as to honor and glorify his God.
Yet in Scripture, God Himself uses sarcasm—regularly—to point out the foolishness of man’s idolatry. So we hear God saying, “Oh man, man! I am God, and you aren’t.” God likens rebellious men to an earthenware vessel, a mere inanimate object, yet arrogant enough to argue with his Maker!
Two of the above uses of the word conclude that LDS teachings lead to idolatry. One could logically conclude, then, that a person embracing such beliefs will be led to idolatry as a result. However, it would not do for Mr. Barksdale’s purposes to present the truth of what the book actually says, for to say that someone examines the issues thoroughly and comes to the conclusion that a system leads to idolatry is a far cry from saying “He calls us idolaters and cultists.” If he were to deal with what I actually said, he’d have to admit that for him, to engage in ad-hominem attacks upon Mormons is to fairly evaluate their beliefs, compare them with Scripture, and come to the honest conclusion that they have been badly deceived. Yet, anyone can see that is not ad-hominem argumentation at all.
So why the tremendous misrepresentation in Mr. Barksdale’s article? The answer comes quickly:
Why? Why are people so consumed with hatred that they feel the need to form organizations like CRI, or the “Counter-Cult” movement? Why is their hatred so unrelenting? What is the payoff for persecuting other Christians? One has to seriously wonder. And as can be seen by White’s most recent book, the tone of anti-Mormon works is getting worse.
Note the assumption here: that I hate Mormons. Yet, Is the Mormon My Brother? contained the following statement:
I love the Mormon people. In our culture today, that might sound strange. Secular folks could not possibly understand what I mean, especially since I have written an entire work demonstrating, from LDS sources, and from the Bible, that Mormonism is not Christianity. And since Mormons claim to be Christians, how can I say I love Mormons when I say that one of their most often repeated claims is not true?
But the Christian reading this work will understand exactly what I mean. The Bible is very plain in telling us how we are to act as followers of Christ. We are to “speak the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15) even while we “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9) and “expose the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). Christian love does not ignore the truth, it revels in it. Indeed, there is no Christian love where truth is ignore or compromised. They go hand in hand, for “love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).
It is my love for the LDS people that compels me to missions work in Utah and Arizona. And it forms a major component in my writing this book. If I love someone, I will tell them the truth, even if I know they may not appreciate my efforts. As Paul was forced to say to the Galatians when writing them a difficult letter, “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).
I believe it is not a sign of true, honest, uncompromising love to have the kind of disagreements I have with LDS people—disagreements that involve eternal issues, and yes, the eternal destiny of those involved—and yet dismiss those disagreements because it is uncomfortable to talk about them. We would never allow such a mindset to exist in almost any other area of our lives, but when it comes to this one area, we seem to go just a little berserk, allowing our emotions to run away with our thinking. If my Mormon friend is worshipping another god and has been deceived, how can I remain silent and still claim I am showing Christian love?
And so in part I write out of love for the LDS people. But even more so, I have written out of love for Christian people. This book is meant to equip the saints, to provide them with the necessary facts, both from a biblical perspective, as well as from a dogmatic LDS perspective, upon which to act in deciding such issues as fellowship, interaction, and evangelism. Christians need to know the truth about LDS teaching, and I have sought diligently to present it. I hope that the Lord will be pleased, through the process of struggling with these issues, to re-ignite in the hearts of many a pastor and layperson a love for the great truths of God’s uniqueness, immutability, and creatorship.
Is it not far more likely that the “unrelenting hatred” is to be found in those who misrepresent others, are dishonest in their writings, and who seek to damage others’ reputations by dishonesty? Yes, Mr. Barksdale accuses me of misrepresentation, just as I am accusing him. There is, of course, one glaring difference: I have documented his misrepresentations. He documented nothing. Instead, his desire is obviously to do nothing more than communicate to his readers that I am a hateful, vengeful person. If the above was not enough to convince you of that, read on:
White has written yet another book, this time aimed at teenagers, called What’s With The Dudes At The Door? Not content with spewing his hatred in the general direction of any adult that will listen, White now feels it his imperative duty to indoctrinate Evangelical youth with a healthy dose of hatred and religious bigotry. These youth would be well-served to ask, as they read this book, “What Would Jesus Do?” as White has definitely ignored this rather rhetorical question as he repeatedly labels Mormons as “weirdo cultists”.
Why? Why would an otherwise intelligent Child of our Heavenly Father be so possessed and consumed with this kind of hatred? What would possess him to be this vicious? Why would he do such a thing?
Let’s put the terms together for the full effect: hatred, healthy dose of hatred and religious bigotry, “weirdo cultists,” consumed with this kind of hatred, vicious. Combine these with the ones we’ve already seen: unrelenting hatred, bitter, name-calling school-yard charm, etc. The reader is invited to scan both of my books on Mormonism and see if any such invective can be found. The truth is self-evident.
Barksdale goes on to quote from Mosser and Owen’s famous paper, attacking my scholarship. Yet, he does not even quote from the book itself. While we could hope for more from the full review, the clear emotionalism and pure prejudice documented so far will undoubtedly preclude the full review from having any substantial meaning.
I have indicated in written works and in many media appearances that Mormonism is attempting to “mainstream” itself. Mr. Barksdale admits it:
It is my opinion that more work needs to be done in this area. More projects like How Wide The Divide? need to be pursued. Mormon scholars are well-accepted in mainstream Christian Scholarship. It’s high time that the rest of us were accepted as readily into the mainstream Christian community.
I have addressed this issue fully in the book—-which is why Mr. Barksdale is so desperate to keep his readers from fairly listening to its argument. He is so desperate, in fact, that he’s willing to go this far:
Mr. White, this is not Nazi Germany, and Mormons are not a lower life form. Evangelical Christianity is not the “Master Race”, and all others scum. We are all children of our Heavenly Father. Let’s act like it, and emulate His example in our lives. Let’s be a light to their feet, and show them the way.
If we need to, let’s set the example for James in our dealings with Anti-Mormons. He obviously needs one. And who knows? It might just work some day.
Nazi Germany? Lower life form? Master Race? Scum? I invite any person to pick up Is the Mormon My Brother?, read it, and think about what could possibly prompt such comments from Mr. Barksdale.
Will They Ever Deal Honestly with the Issue?
One is left to seriously wonder if any LDS writer will honestly deal with the issues raised in Is the Mormon My Brother? It is obvious beyond dispute that Mr. Barksdale is unwilling to do so. FARMS is so completely out of control that I no longer post the embarrassing e-mails I continue to receive from notable people associated with that organization. So who will step up to the bat and actually respond to the issue without first engaging in the most obvious, blatant forms of dishonest argumentation and simple name-calling? Only time will tell.
James R. White, Th.D.
July 1, 1998
Upon encountering Mr. Barksdale’s review, I asked him, in an Instant Message, to document some of his claims. He said he is an honest man, and he’d retract anything that was in error. Time passed. No documentation. Finally, Mr. Barksdale replied: with an article more shrill, and less true, than what came before. Laced with childish invective and condescension, Barksdale blithely skipped over the vast majority of the above, choosing only to respond to what he could successfully twist to his own view, ignoring that which is simply too difficult to even attempt to misrepresent (Mr. Barksdale did not include the URL for this response entitled “If You’re Not My Brother, Then Why Do You Keep Hanging Around My House-“). Sadly, he has chosen to press forward with his “review” as well . Again, the reader is invited to simply lay aside the emotions Darryl Barksdale is so desperate to invoke, examine the issues and arguments, and decide from there.