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What was it like growing up as a Mormon?
I was baptized into Mormonism at age 11 after missionaries came to our home. It was thrilling to learn about the history of Native Americans who were descendants of ancient Jews and that people who never heard of Mormonism could have proxy baptisms done for them after death. (I was later baptized 45 times in Mormon temples on behalf of deceased persons.) I loved living the health laws and lifestyle of the Mormon Church, loved its scriptures, loved its doctrines and explanations, loved its god.
What were the circumstances of your conversion to New Testament Christianity?
I lacked just over a semester to graduate from Brigham Young University and came home to Albuquerque for the summer break. I met a young man, Dan Scott, a member of the Church of Christ, and believed I could convert him to Mormonism as I had others.
He didn’t know much about Mormonism, but his minister, Lon Elkins, and Dan’s brother-in-law, a minister named Charles Williamson, gave me books that assessed Mormonism, but which balanced accurate and probing criticisms with kindness of approach.
What I learned about the history and archaeology of Mormonism — things not taught to me at BYU — devastated me. It broke my heart. Dan and the people of the Pennsylvania Street Church of Christ (now named Mountainside) loved me and accepted me, but it took me over 10 years to begin to recover. There is no loss like the loss of a beloved god; no betrayal so deep.
What prompted you to research and write about Mormons, and what have you learned through that process?
God did it. I never thought to write a book about Mormonism until a Christian author and her publisher asked me to do so. That book, “The Mormon Mirage,” is now an audiobook and an extended-text e-book as well.
However, I came to realize that not everyone can process all the information in such a highly documented book. For that reason, I wrote a novel, “Latter-day Cipher” (published by Moody), which describes, almost as a parable, the lifestyle of 21st century Mormonism and the cost of finding out its false claims.
Interwoven into the action of the book are details about Mormonism’s doctrines and practices. In addition, there are hundreds of informational links and a section called “365 Reasons Why I Won’t Return to Mormonism” on my website, Latayne.com.
Mormons say that they are Christians. Do you agree?
I’ll answer that with a series of questions. Do you believe that God the father was once a man and grew to adulthood on another earth and achieved godhood? Do you believe you can become a god or goddess? Do you believe that the Bible is so flawed and in error that it gives Satan power over people who read and believe it? Do you believe that Jesus didn’t keep his promise to protect his church against the gates of hell?
When I was a Mormon, I would have heartily said “yes” to each of those questions. (Well, maybe not the last one — I never thought through that a total 1,700-year apostasy implied that.) Furthermore, Mormons use the same terms that Christians do, such as “God,” “salvation” and “seminary,” but they mean very different things. It makes communication with a Mormon difficult because it can seem that we are agreeing, saying the same thing, when we have different definitions of the same terms.
Mormons seem to be role models in many ways. Could we in Churches of Christ learn from them?
I like to say that everything that is truly good about Mormonism is Christian — scripture study, missionary work, emphasis on family and loyalty to your God — and you don’t need all the “extras” that Mormonism tacks on.
When I became a Christian, the membership numbers of the LDS Church and the Churches of Christ were just about equal. I’d like to say we have “held our own,” but the LDS church has more than doubled. However, they are beginning to lose members in droves because people are learning the truth, mainly via the Internet, about Mormonism.
We don’t have such “secrets,” but the Bible itself has become our unread secret. Whereas the Body of Christ with which I united myself in 1979 had a well-deserved reputation for deep and extensive Bible knowledge, I observe that the average member of the Church of Christ no longer has that devotion to Bible knowledge and understanding. I was determined that this would not be the case with my own children.
Mormon politicians are making a lot of headlines these days, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. I know that you attended BYU with Romney. What implications would a Mormon presidency have?
Faithful Mormons have a highly developed sense of patriotism due to two main factors.
First, they believe that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and other founding documents were inspired by God in the same manner their scriptures were, and that almost without exception our patriotic forefathers — from Columbus to almost every president of the United States — became Mormons after their deaths, in the spirit world.
Secondly, when I was at BYU, I (and most Mormons) put great stock in a prophecy of Brigham Young that the government of the United States would “hang by a thread” and only Mormon elders would save it.
You combine that information with knowing that any man who has been married in a Mormon temple has made an oath of loyalty to the LDS Church, and you must consider that such an LDS president would not have the same view of government as traditional Christians would have.
What advice would you give to a fellow Christian interested in evangelizing a Mormon friend, neighbor or relative?
When I was a Mormon, I believed all Christians were secretly unhappy, yearning unknowingly for the completion that Mormonism could bring them. (This seemed to be affirmed every time I knocked doors and a Christian slammed the door or insulted me.) So my first advice is to be proactive in sharing the joy you have in the Lord and your sense of satisfaction with the Bible — emphasizing that you don’t need anything beyond that. If those young men knocking doors in your community met that response repeatedly from Christians, they would be amazed.
Of course, that implies you are at peace with God and are intimately familiar with the Bible — which is the mind of God in written form — and have confidence that it does indeed provide what you need for life and godliness.
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