Friday, December 27, 2013

Lyn Wilder attacks Church on Christmas day

On Christmas Day, Christianity Today's web site had a headline that read, "How I Escaped the Mormon Temple."  The article was penned by ex-Mormon college professor Lyn Wilder, whom we profiled in an earlier article, "Former BYU prof-turned-exMo gets an 'F.'"

First of all, wouldn't you expect a Christian web site to have Christmas articles posted on a Christmas day?  Why not testify of Christ's birth instead of posting anti-Mormon tripe?  Second, the title is intentionally sensational.  It makes it sound like Wilder was being held against her will in a temple and broke free from her captors.  Instead, the story just relates how Wilder quit the Church and her job as a BYU professor.

Her story about leaving the Church is revealing.  I have noted in the past that, if you give an anti-Mormon enough opportunity, he or she will begin a monologue like a villain in a movie.  You know what I mean--that moment when Superman is cowering from the Kryptonite and the soon-to-be-victorious nemesis proudly announces why he did whatever evil thing he has done.  Inevitably, as they go down their list of grievances, they'll reveal the personal weakness that caused their fall from grace.  It always happens.  Lyn Wilder does this in the Christmas Day article.

When you are listening to ex-Mormons who bash the Church, listen carefully to the monologue and wait patiently.  They're looking for someone to argue with them.  They are looking for you to prove them wrong and convince them to come back to the Church.  When you just listen, they start to ramble and they get more personal, and eventually they run out of their sophisticated rationalizations and they'll reveal why they really left.  Over the years of studying anti-Mormon behavior, I've seen this monologue becomes somewhat structured and it will contain most of these elements:
The order of these elements can change and some of them may be omitted, depending on the amount of time or space available for the monologue.  Let's go through Wilder's and see what elements of the monologue are present and how she unwittingly applies them.

Wilder begins with establishing rapport and credibility.  Although the editors of Christianity Today think that Wilder is writing to her newfound fellow Christians, she isn't.  She is addressing her former brothers and sisters in the Church and trying to justify her actions.  Thus she begins with establishing rapport and credentials among the saints.  She loved living in "Zion."  She joined the Church when she was 25.  One of the things anti-Mormon ex-Mormon like to do is inflate the importance of any Church callings they held.  Wilder does this by mentioning that she was a BYU professor, which was her employment, not a Church calling.  Her husband was a "high priest, a bishopric member and high counselor, temple worker, seminary teacher, and Sunday school president."

In this attempt to establish her credibility, one thing that stands out to me.  It doesn't mention any callings that Wilder held.  It doesn't say that she was a Relief Society visiting teacher, a Primary teacher, or Sunday School teacher.  She doesn't mention that she led music, taught a class, or led a service committee.  She mentions her husband's important callings.  Why was her husband doing all the "heavy lifting" in the family when it came to building the kingdom?  Was she too busy with her career?  Did she decline opportunities to serve in the Church?

The reason I mention this is that Wilder has repeatedly said that she never came to know Jesus in the Church.  One of the greatest ways to draw the Spirit of Christ into our lives is through serving others, humbly following the example of Jesus.  The Church is an organization that is devoted to service.  When we walk in Jesus' steps, we come to know Jesus very profoundly.  It doesn't look to me, from her own words, that Wilder served in the Church.  Maybe she was one of those unfortunate people who felt that service was beneath them.  After all, she was a college professor.  She had worldly status.  Perhaps she thought that she should have been in charge of some organization instead of being given lowly assignments like visiting the sick or the needy.  Some people won't serve unless in brings them into the spotlight.  For all appearances, Wilder likes the spotlight--and writing anti-Mormon screeds gives her the exposure she craves.

Wilder also mentions three children who were active in the Church.  Her two sons served missions.  She mentions her daughter pleasing Church leaders with "her faith in Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith."  This is a thinly veiled personal attack.  Church members do not have faith in Joseph Smith.  Joseph Smith has no saving power.  Joseph Smith was a witness of Jesus Christ.  If one studies the personal writings of Joseph Smith, he was all about bringing souls to Christ.  I would ask at this juncture, what became of her children?  She goes on to relate later that one of her sons left the Church.  The daughter "came to Christ," which in her mind, Wilder equates with leaving the Church.  Did the other son leave also?  She doesn't mention him by name, although she does mention the other two.  I suppose that he remains active and faithful in the Church--that's why she doesn't mention him.  This would be a serious thorn in an ex-Mormon's side.  Maybe that explains the constant need to attack the Church.

Along with the intent to bias the sectarian Christian audience with the line about faith in Joseph Smith, Wilder also mentions the "obligatory two-year evangelizing missions."  Missions are not obligatory.  You have to qualify for them.  It is not easy to prepare for one.  It's expensive.  It requires preparation and sacrifice.  In Mormon culture, missions are a rite of passage of sorts, but not everyone serves a mission.  However, a person who serves a mission demonstrates resourcefulness, devotion, and leadership ability that will eventually take him into positions of trust in the Church later in life. Serving a mission is a privilege and an honor.  The word "obligatory" doesn't do the experience justice.

Another part of Wilder's narrative describes her life in "Zion" as an endless litany of duties.  Anti-Mormons, especially among evangelicals, love to focus on this part of Mormon life.  We believe in the words of James in the New Testament.  We should be "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22-23).  Those who think they can have faith and not do God's work are deceiving themselves, according to James.  We believe in being cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7).  We follow the words of Jesus that tell us to freely give because he has given to us freely (Matthew 10:8).  We give in service as well as in the form of tithing.  Our Church has no paid clergy, unlike those of other Christian sects, because we believe that the Bible forbids a hireling clergy that preaches for filthy lucre.  (See Titus 1:7, 11, 1 Timothy 3:3, 1 Peter 5:2, and John 10:13.)  In other churches, pastors, priests, youth ministers, choir directors, soloists, organists, and others get paid, contrary to the Bible's teachings.

Conversion and salvation in the Church are personal events.  Church activity provides a good, wholesome environment in which to find Christ and be born again.  However, activity in the Church does not save us.  Before my conversion to Mormonism, I was a Methodist and a Baptist.  In those denominations, just like in Mormonism, are unconverted people who were just going through the motions.  They went to church but they had never been born again.  We believe in being born again, which is taught in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  However, there are Mormon "Pharisees" just like there are Baptist and Catholic "Pharisees" who believe that their membership in a church will save them.  Overall, in my experience however, I have found that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an organization that effectively leads individuals to being born again in Christ.

Some people just want a "golden ticket" to heaven.  They want a one-step event that will guarantee them salvation.  That's what evangelicals believe in.  In Mormonism, we teach that being born again is essential, but just like a real birth, it's just the beginning.  Life after conversion is long and God uses it to teach, test, and sanctify the believer.  Judging from Wilder's past comments, she was one of those who was looking for a "golden ticket."  Being a member of the Church doesn't guarantee salvation.  This is a teaching of the Church.  Our doctrine is that you must be born again.  You must repent of sins.  You must be baptized and come unto Christ totally trusting in him to save you.  Then, once you are born again, you must walk in obedience to Christ every day.  If you make mistakes (and we all do) then the atonement will cleanse you from sin.  Your duty is to keep going, keep serving, and to take up your cross (Matthew 16:24) and follow Jesus every single day of your life until he calls you home.  Somehow, in 20-plus years in the Church, Wilder missed that.

The next steps in the monologue are to tell how disillusionment set in and an awakening occurred in the life of the ex-Mormon.  Wilder tells us that one of her sons fell away while on his mission.  From what Wilder tells us about herself, it is not surprising that he did.  She tells us that, for some strange reason, she was unfamiliar with the New Testament, as if Mormons don't read it.  She refers to the "Mormon scriptures."  The "Mormon scriptures" include the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  English-speaking latter-day saints use the King James Version.  She refers to the "LDS-authorized King James Version" in a sly attempt to bias the Christian reader to think we use a different Bible than other Christians.  Members of the Church read the exact same King James Bible as other denominations.  Since the 1980s, we published a wonderful study version with footnotes that link to other LDS scriptures like the Book of Mormon, but the text of the Bible is the same.  We do not discourage use of other Bible versions with more modern language, but we prefer the eloquence of the King James Version.  Wilder's word selection is intended to bias and deceive the uninformed reader.

Wilder's son apparently did not receive adequate preparation for his missionary service at home.  Before I sent my sons on missions, I knew they would encounter anti-Mormon arguments.  I knew they would have to understand the tenets of different faiths and have a knowledge of their points-of-view.  They would have to be able to connect with others, understand them, and show how the restored gospel complements the truth they already have.  This preparation helped my sons be more effective and successful missionaries.  My sons had read the scriptures--especially the New Testament.  They attended seminary, but most of all, I took it upon myself to teach them how the doctrines and teachings of the Church can lead people to Christ.

When missionaries get into the field, if they aren't born again and converted to the Lord, it becomes a severe trial.  If they don't have the spiritual foundation, a few of them will lose confidence and then Satan goes to work on them.  That's what happened to Wilder's son, Micah.  Many more young missionaries buckle down and do the hard thing--they stay and exercise faith.  God rewards their faith with a testimony borne of the Holy Spirit.  It's understandable that Satan will try and tempt someone who is seeking to become born again.  Those who give up fail the test.  They let the care of the world overtake them.  (See Matthew 13:22.)

Yes, there is a stigma to be overcome when a missionary fails to complete his missionary service.  The standards for missionary service are high.  When any one fails to meet them or abandons them, it is a personal failure that one feels acutely.  That's why missionary candidates are screened beforehand, to select those candidates who will be able to handle the demands of missionary work.  Missionary work is physically challenging.  They care called upon to bless and heal the sick through their faith.  They help and serve people who are poor and downtrodden.  They comfort and bless the discouraged.  They preach and teach the gospel.  And they do it all at their own expense without a salary.  They hold a place of honor in the Mormon culture.  When one of them fails due to transgression or apostasy, it does carry a stigma.  A missionary who renounces his faith on his mission, like Wilder's son did, and tries to take others down with him will face excommunication.  It affects the entire family.

Wilder repeatedly mentions that it wasn't until she read the New Testament that she found Christ.  This is disingenuous because she makes it sound like Mormons don't use or read the New Testament.  Every four years, our Sunday school curriculum studies the New Testament for the whole year.  In 20-plus years as a member of the Church, Wilder should have read the New Testament at least five times.  Personal study outside of Church meetings is constantly encouraged.  Nothing stopped her from studying it.  If she didn't study it as a member of the LDS Church, it was a serious personal omission on her part.  If she didn't study it and teach it to her children, she is partly responsible for her son's failure and apostasy as a missionary.

Wilder's disillusionment narrative brings up other doubts she harbored.  She mentions her patriarchal blessing, racism, and the "scope of Christ's atonement" as things that troubled her.  Again, she's writing to members of the Church, not non-members here.  She's trying to insinuate doubt.  This is what the devil does and how he works.  I don't know what her patriarchal blessing told her, but perhaps it warned her of pride, which would lead to her falling away.  If that was the case, then the words were prophetic, weren't they?  I understand her being troubled with the Church's history of racism, but a study of history of the United States puts that in context in the 19th century when EVERYTHING was racist in our culture.  The Church has a very anti-racist culture today.

I'm not sure what she means about the scope of Christ's atonement.  Mormons believe that Christ's atonement was infinite and eternal.  He shed his blood as the price for all sin. Jean Calvin, whose doctrines are foundational to most evangelicals, taught that the atonement was limited in scope.  In other words, Christ's atonement is only effective for those who God predestined to salvation.  That's a whole theological can of worms we don't have room for here. In short, Calvinist evangelicals believe that God has already picked who he is going to save and made an atonement for them, but the rest are irrevocably lost.  He created those lost souls for the express purpose of condemning them.  That is not a biblical doctrine and it denies the free will of man.  This is an oversimplification for reasons of space, but this is the scope of the atonement that Wilder mentions.

The Bible describes the very Church we belong to.  If you were to transport a 1st century Christian through time into a modern evangelical Church, he wouldn't recognize it.  If you transported him into a Mormon temple, he would immediately recognize it.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the same organization that Jesus and his apostles founded.

Wilder's "awakening" occurs as she reads the Bible, something she should have already done in her 20-plus years in the Church.  If she had read the Bible as she should have, she would have found fellowship with the millions of born again Mormons within the Church.  Why did she fail in this?
We can't tell what it is, but there was something more that she's not telling us. She's obviously ambitious and seeks the limelight.  Was she turned down for a position as department chair at BYU?  Did she crave a calling of importance in the Church that matched her secular accomplishments, but which never materialized?  Was she stuck in a Primary calling that she felt was beneath her abilities?  Did she resent the time her husband was away from home serving as an early morning seminary teacher and as a member of a bishopric, both of which are demanding callings?  Wilder was looking for an exit and her son's personal apostasy gave her the out she was looking for.

Wilder turns to rationalization, the next phase of the monologue, and tells us why her life is better--why she's glad she left.  She wrote.
From that point on, God became personal. I talked with him. He sometimes answered. I had stark dreams. Once I surrendered my will to his, he seemed to be gently leading me somewhere. He showed up at unexpected times and taught me through other people and through circumstances, through the Word and during prayer. It was bizarre at first—unnerving. I'd never experienced anything like this. Some days I pulled back to catch my breath. He got me a job I hadn't applied for so I could leave BYU. He sold our home the day after we resigned from the Mormon Church. This must be what Christians call a personal relationship with Jesus.
You'll hear Mormons say the exact same things about their conversion to the Church from another faith.  We don't disparage the faiths we left in our conversions.  We generally regard them with affection and tenderness because they served as an intermediate stepping-stone to a greater light and truth.  We don't go back and attack them, even though the Church is full of ex-Baptists, ex-Catholics, ex-Lutherans, ex-Methodists, ex-whatever!  Some 300,000 people convert to Mormonism every year and most of those converts come from other Christian faiths.  I have stories that I can share about how God intervened in my life and brought be to Christ and the Mormon Church.  A friend of ours in the Air Force joined the Church and decided that she wanted to return to civilian life, even though she had over two years left on her enlistment.  She miraculously got released from the service honorably with almost no administrative hassles--THAT was a miracle!

The point is that Wilder could have been reading the Bible all along as a member of the Church and enjoyed powerful blessings and spiritual manifestations.  She could have had personal revelations and answers to prayers.  She was in the Church, but it wasn't in her!  Everything that Wilder would have wanted, and claims to enjoy now, was available to her as a member of the Church.  She claims to have found it now, but what has she lost?

She lost the blessing of being sealed to her husband in heaven.  She lost the sealing to her children.  She disconnected herself from ancestors who were waiting to have baptisms and sealing ordinances performed for them.  She lost the remission of sins that comes from baptism that was performed by someone having proper authority.  Worst of all, she burned the bridge that would connect the hearts of the fathers (her ancestors) to her children and future posterity (See Malachi 4:6).  It leaves her without roots or branches (see Malachi 4:1).  She lost the gift of the Holy Ghost and the hope of entering into God's celestial kingdom.

As you can see, Lyn Wilder's narrative falls right into the pattern of other anti-Mormon narratives written by former members of the Church.  Satan undermines their faith, capitalizing on complacency, and sloth.  Satan plays a long game.  He can influence a person over decades and lead them astray little by little.  Therefore we must do as Jesus said and "watch and pray" (Mark 13:33).  Satan appeals to pride and self-importance.  He appeals to ego.  He wraps his victims with slender cords that are hardly noticeable at first and then slowly binds them and traps them in his web.

Jesus said, "...No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).  If Lyn Wilder truly did put her hand to a new "plough" of faith, why is she constantly looking back, attacking the Church she abandoned?  Let her press on and do all the good she can in the world.  That's what Jesus taught.  Looking back with bitter recriminations, constantly reliving old slights and offenses, is not what the gospel's about.  Instead of serving Christ humbly, she seeks the spotlight and the praise of the world by writing books and seeking to make money from attacking the Church.  This article, like others she has written in the past, is deceptive and misleading.

Last of all, her timing tells you something of the spirit that animates her actions.  Seriously, wouldn't a Christian find something better to on Christmas day than to attack Mormonism?

1 comment:

  1. You know what Greg, I find the whole thing incredible. But then again, there's a reason why antis do it anyways, people like me aren't going to talk when I am watching the Forgotten Carols or some other spiritually uplifting film. Anyways, you have just given me a decent idea for my next article, coming soon...


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