Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Joel Osteen the Texas pastor of the church the media likes to call the largest church in American history has been asked recently what he thinks of Mitt Romney's Mormon faith. On CNN the other day he said Mormons and Christians are brothers in Christ. He said he had no reason to believe Mitt Romney is not a Christian. I am not sure Romney has ever claimed to be a Christian. I have heard him say Mormonism is another faith, or another religion and he believes we need to be tolerant of persons of diverse faith backgrounds. That seems more accurate than Osteen's comments.

We will be hearing a lot more about Mormonism now that Romney looks to be the Republican presidential candidate. Most people have not given Mormonism much thought up to now. They may know some Mormons. Mormons are good folk. They are as pro-family as one can get. They don't drink alcohol or caffeine and they don't smoke. They all go to BYU which has become a football power. And last year one of their best basketball players was suspended from their NCAA tournament bound team for "premarital sex". And that doesn't happen in many universities. Most people know about the young men in dark suits who knock on their doors to talk about Mormonism, too. But, Is Mormonism Christian? Will Christians vote for a Mormon for president? I can answer the first question but I don't know about the second one.

In the popular mind, Mormons have crossed over to the Christian mainstream. Many people just lump them right in there with all the other Christian denominations. But, funny thing is, Mormons don't. They want to convert Christians to Mormonism. In fact, Mormonism grows best in a Christian environment. Mormonism believes it is the true church of Christ. They are the true "Christians". After the apostles died the Church disappeared with them. It was rediscovered by Joseph Smith near Palmyra, NY in the 1800's. So all current Christians are impostors and fakes. Mormons talk a lot about Jesus Christ. They profess faith in him. They call him their savior. But, their doctrine is far different from the orthodox, historic Christian faith. Richard John Neuhaus in an article entitled, Is Mormonism Christian?, in First Things (March 2000) says, LDS teaching adds to, deviates from, or starkly opposes the Apostles Creed article by article. Mormon belief is startlingly different from orthodox Christian belief. For Mormons, God is an exalted man no different in kind from you and me. The world was not created out of nothing but organized out of what was there. They don't believe in original sin. In fact, the "sin" in the garden of Eden was actually a bold first step toward becoming who God is. Mormons teach a plurality of gods with God being like the number one. They do not believe in the Trinity or the deity of Christ. So, it would hard to say that Mormons and Christians are brothers in Christ. Mormons are the newest religion in America dating from Joseph Smith who put it  together out of a variety of spiritual beliefs along with a good dose of Masonic ritual in the early 1800's. It all came together for him when God gave him the golden tablets written in a mysterious language and told him to go forth and reconstitute the true church.

There are many good things to admire in modern day Mormonism. There are many good, decent American citizens who are Mormon. One has been a governor of Massachusetts and is running for President. We have had Presidents of many different faiths and even no faith. Thomas Jefferson had no use for organized religion, did not believe in the miracles of Jesus including the Resurrection and he made his own Bible to suit his personal beliefs. I am sure there will be people who will not vote for Romney because he is Mormon. Most people will vote for who they think the best leader of our country would be for the next four years. Neuhaus concluded his article this way: "...we owe to Mormon Americans respect for their human dignity,  protection of their religious freedom, readiness for friendship, openness to honest dialogue, and an eagerness to join hands in social and cultural tasks that advance the common good...."

Book recommendation: Mormon America: Power and Promise (rev. ed) by Richard and Joan Ostling

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charles Colson 1931-2012

Charles Colson died this past weekend. I was in seminary about the time he was released from prison and soon after his book, Born Again, came out which told his story about his conversion to Christ. There was one professor at my school, Richard Lovelace, who made many trips down to the D.C. area to mentor Colson in Church History which was Lovelace's subject of expertise. Colson was known for pulling in several theologians and Bible scholars along with Lovelace to bring him up to speed with what he had been missing in his Christian Education all those years before ( he was a lapsed Episcopalian who didn't think religion had much use in the real world). Many people doubted his conversion; it looked like he was still manipulating the justice system and trying to get out of prison early. Those doubters have the last 40 years of Colson's life to scrutinize. Colson's life falls neatly into two halves. The first half was full of ambition: a law degree and a promising political career rising to a prominent role in the Nixon White House. As told by his biographer, Jonathan Aitken, he worked long hours, drank too much and it cost him his marriage. He was a close confidant of Nixon though and when Watergate blew up Colson was caught in the middle. And on tape. His win at all costs attitude was revealed in his own words for anyone to hear. His famous statement about "walking over his own grandmother" if it would help Nixon win captured his "hatchet man" reputation. He was ruthless and proud of it. Prison changed him. He was surely humbled and spiritually prepared to commit his life to Christ. There was little of a spiritual background to suggest he would turn to God in prison. He had never been a churched man. But through the dark days of Watergate and beyond he was befriended by a couple of Christian colleagues, Mark Hatfield and Harold Hughes, a Republican and a Democrat. These men and other Christians on Capitol Hill showed him the love of Christ. Eventually, Colson had his own meeting with Christ and the rest is history. Colson went on to a ministry that took him into many prisons around the world. Later, the organization he founded was called Prison Fellowship. Colson became a much sought after speaker and he took his place as an Evangelical leader and speaker. He authored and co-authored a number of books on living the Christian life and the Church. He continued to have a role in politics but mostly it was as a counselor to those in power. Because he lived so large and (in)famously before he became a Christian and that part of the story was so well known, it was easy to see the difference in his life Christ made. He was a redeemed person and because of Christ his life produced many good works. Whatever good he did after he met Christ he gave Christ all the credit. In Colson's life the transformation the Christ brings into a human life was most apparent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

March Makes Me Madness

My wife asked me last night if this was the last basketball game. I said yes. It was the women's college championship. I don't count the NBA because I don't watch it. It's the least pure form of basketball. It's watch me, I'm the star, see me play one on one. I said, yes to her question. Then I said, tomorrow baseball begins.

So the basketball season is over. What did we learn. The women's game is purer than the men's game. Kentucky won the men's championship and all 5 of their starters will be playing in the NBA next season. Two of their stars are projected to be the number one and two picks in the NBA draft. They were both freshman this year. One and done. They went to college on the seven month plan. What a joke. Their coach, Calipari, will be busy now recruiting another bunch of seven month college students. The men's championship was boring. It was a done deal. Kentucky could have beaten some NBA teams. The final four teams every year have many players who are attending a college for a year or two before they enter the NBA draft. Who can blame them, as the thinking goes, they will make millions. Not so, women's college basketball. Their best player, Baylor's Brittney Griner, will be back for her senior year she said. She could go play in Europe and make a million or she can wait to play in the WNBA and make in the thousands. Women players go to school, play for their school; many men players have to check out their jerseys to remember what school they are attending. Women coaches of women basketball make millions less than their male counterparts. People like to watch the NBA minor league. Baseball drafts players out of high school but if they choose to go to college instead they have to wait until they are 21 to re-enter the draft. That would be a better plan for the NBA and it would make for better college basketball.

Some years there is a small college like Butler who made a run to the championship the past couple years. This is a team with no McDonald's All Americans, no big sports budget, no mega million dollar coach - just a lot of team chemistry and hard nosed players. They are definitely the underdog and the reason lots of people watch. Not this year. By the time the championship game was played on Monday night, it was hard to tell who was more bored - the Kentucky players or the spectators. Kentucky was up by 18 at one point and got so bored they almost lost the game. CBS had plenty of hype for the tournament but by the time it got past the first couple rounds there was little reason to stay and watch. Many of those one and dones and two and dones had given up playing hard and were thinking about staying healthy and making those NBA bucks while playing one on one.