July 9, 2009

"Born-Again Mormon" Review, Part 9: Shawn's Army

This is the final segment of my review of Shawn McCraney's I Was a Born-Again Mormon. See part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

In time, Born-Again Mormons will play a significant role in completely eliminating the superfluous human made aspects of Mormonism…As Born-Again Mormons gather in number and strength, it is anticipated that the present Church…will become less esoteric in its religious adherence and more biblically inclined...Eventually all the peculiar practices and beliefs which presently serve as important doctrines of salvation to the Saints will begin to fade in the light of biblical truth and open praise for the Lord (McCraney, pp. 283-84). 
McCraney believes he has outlined the proper standards and approach for converting Mormons in I Was a Born-Again Mormon, as compared to the flawed efforts by other anti-Mormon ministries. The biggest addition to the second edition of the book is a recounted conversation between McCraney and the producer of his television program, in which he explains how his approach differs from that of other “anti-Mormon ministries.” I include it in full to give the reader an idea of the general tone of McCraney's book:

“So tell us about the name, Born-Again Mormon,” Denny asked over a small green salad and bubbling glass of soda water.

“Well,” I replied contemplatively “the name is understandably controvertial [sic] but in a way it is what differentiates our ministry and methods from the standard anti-Mormon approaches that have been used in the past.”

Denny, a soft spoken and affable man, sort of nodded and waited to hear more.

“For starters,” I continued, “I was an active member of the LDS church when the Lord stepped in and took over my life. I was unquestionably saved and yet I was still a Mormon. So in one sense, our title represents the idea that individual members of the LDS Church can be born-again while being actively engaged in the LDS Church.” 

“Do people have a problem with that?” Denny asked.

“There are people who have spent their lives fighting Mormonism who have a problem with everything about our ministry and methods. For over a century, their approach has been to try and extract Mormon people from the LDS Church first and to then attempt to lead the extracted to Jesus. Having been LDS, I know that this approach only works on a small percentage of active LDS people.”

Denny took a drink of soda and then rested back into the booth.

“And how is your approach different?”

“We believe that it is often spiritually irresponsible to pull out the rug of faith out from under peoples [sic] feet who have not experienced Jesus personally. Therefore we believe that we should lead with Jesus first. Once a Latter-day Saint has come to know Jesus intimately, we leave it up to Him to lead the person out of Mormonism, or wherever He wants them to go.”

“Oh, I get it,” Michele chimed in, “you let Jesus take the lead in the Mormon people's lives.”

“Exactly,” I replied, extatic [sic] that someone was grasping our methodology so quickly...

We ordered our meals then continued with the discussion.

“You know, we get a lot of heat over the title of the ministry, but we [sic] also constantly attacked for telling Latter-day Saints that if they want to stay in the Church they can.” 

“Yeah,” Denny said quizzically, “what's that about? Don't you think people need to get out of Mormonism and into a Bible teaching Church?”

“Of course I do, Denny, of course I do,” I said. “But having been LDS I know some things about my LDS brothers and sisters that many of my critics tend to ignore or have forgotten.”


“Like the fact that membership in the Mormon Church, for many people, is a life-encompassing experience. It is their everything. As a result, leaving 'the Church' can be a very difficult process.”

“Well, said Denny, “(name withheld) said that the minute she came to know the truth about Mormonism, she and her husband walked away from it.”

“That's fine for (name withheld),” I replied, “but it is also a bit ego-centric to think that just because she reacted to a set of circumstances in a specific that everyone on earth needs to do the same.”

At this we shared in a nice respite of laughter. I decided to add some finishing thoughts on the matter.

“You know,” I said amidst the cheer, “people really get wrapped up in making rules and regulations for other when it comes to God. They take certain biblical verses and apply them to their pet position then spend their lives cramming theses passages down everybody elses [sic] throats. I just don't see Christianity this way, you know, in such a narrow application…Our ministry is frankly against Mormonism. Mormonism teaches another gospel. Mormonism regurgitates the Law and reimplements [sic] it in the lives of trusting people…”

Michele interrupted me, “But Mormons - the people - may not buy into all that Mormonism teaches?”

“Exactly!” I almost shouted. “So our ministry is a two fold [sic] approach. On the one hand, we renounce Mormonism. I mean, we are literally anti-Mormonism when it comes to doctrine. But on the other hand, we embrace Mormon people by even going so far as to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to salvation” (pp. 270-274).

I Was a Born-Again Mormon was written largely as a guide to help "Born-Again Mormons" proselyte fellow Latter-day to be born again themselves-- something McCraney believes is practically impossible within the LDS Church. One interesting aspect of McCraney’s story that is absent from his book is his desire to lead the charge of Born-Again Mormons himself by attempting to rejoin the Church. After requesting excommunication in 2002, McCraney says he planned to be rebaptized, this time as a “true Christian.” An excerpt from his website that has since been removed explained:

“The bornagainmormon [sic] mission is to bring other members of the Church to Jesus. I'm convinced that part of this mission is for me to be rebaptized in the Church as a Christian and ONLY as a Christian. I've met with our kind Stake president many times regarding the subject. I've committed to be active, serve, keep the commandments, keep my mouth shut and even shut my website down (if commanded) but they will not let me re-join because I will not accept Joseph Smith nor will I acknowledge that the LDS Church is the ONLY true Church on the face of the earth. This whole concept is difficult for many Christian's [sic] to understand let alone Latter-day Saints. But bottom line, I am a doctrinal Christian through and through - who appreciates the earthly organization of the Church. God willing, this ministry will help other Latter-day Saints know the Lord in the same living way.”1

McCraney said his request for rebaptism was denied because he would not accept Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, leading him to conclude that, according to the Church, Joseph Smith is more important than Jesus Christ. However, McCraney failed to note that he would also be denied baptism if he believed Joseph Smith was a prophet, but rejected Jesus Christ. As Jesus taught in the New Testament, people must accept his servants in order to accept him, and accept him in order to accept the Father:

“He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Matt. 10:40-41; Matt. 23:29-35; Luke 10:16; D&C 84:36-38). 

McCraney will only allow the Bible to speak for God, and he does so through the lens of his own interpretation.Thus, while he claims “A Born-Again Mormon is not concerned about religious forms, titles, or dogmatic claims” (p. 291), throughout the book he repeatedly asserts that truly being born again will result in a “correct” view of the Bible, in addition to other changes in the life of a Christian (p. 335). In a list of the orthodox doctrines of "real" born-again Mormons McCraney explains “A Born-Again Mormon does not attach any religious affiliation, ordinance, or denominational demands to salvation through Jesus Christ” (p. 289), though he is presenting a new affiliation, denominational demands, and dogmatic claims.

True born-again Mormons will recognize the Bible as the “final, perfect, and only authoritative Word of God” (p. 255). Most “stalwart Latter-day Saints,” on the other hand, are utterly incapable of truly understanding the Bible (p. 226).

Even the vocabulary of a Mormon will seamlessly change once they are born again:
Latter-day Saints have been collectively reticent to use the name ‘Jesus’ due to his theological place in LDS theology and the born again Christian use of the name. Typically, Jesus is called ‘the Savior,’ ‘the Lord,’ ‘Jesus Christ,’ ‘Christ’ and ‘the Son of God.’ This was sensible and logical to me as an active, unsaved member of the Church. But worship comes with rebirth, and once I had experienced the miracle of spiritual regeneration, I could not help but using His first given name (even in its Hellenized form) (p. 286). 
 McCraney believes “the unintended but natural tendency to use words and phrases common to reborn Christians (e.g. Jesus, God, the Word, the Word of God, Lord, Praise God, blessed)” is a sign of true spiritual rebirth (p. 114). Journalist Randall Balmer explained that such Evangelical vocabulary made it difficult for him to get in-depth answers from many Evangelicals whom he has interviewed, causing him to steer clear of some Evangelical leaders who were especially “adept at that parlance of piety known as ‘God talk,’ and I suspected it would be tedious, perhaps impossible, to penetrate this verbal veil in order to tease out useful answers. ‘How, Reverend ones, do you account for the success of your church?’ ‘It’s just the work of the Lord...the Lord has blessed our ministry here.’ There’s nothing wrong with such answers, I suppose, and I have no reason to question the sincerity of those responses. It’s just that I have the same reaction to them as I have to weather forecasters on television.”2

At the end of the book McCraney offers a “practicum” with advice for Born-Again Mormons who wish to remain in the Church to help convert others. Though he was unable to rejoin the church to lead this army, he outlines the methods to be used:
A Born-Again Mormon would never disrupt a meeting, class, activity, or service to correct, confront, or chide a member of the Church on doctrine, policy, or practice but would instead express his or her Christ-centered opinions in a private, proper, and peaceful setting…A Born Again Mormon would seek to adapt the Church-prescribed material to fit biblical truth without fanfare or attention…A Born-Again Mormon would refrain from ‘bashing’ with anyone, anywhere, or anytime (pp. 290-291). 
McCraney hopes his efforts will lead to a subtle integration of Latter-day Saints individually and then collectively to reach authentic Christianity by eventually denying the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, and any other unique LDS belief, thus becoming part of McCraney’s “Body of Christ.”
This is the point to Born-Again Mormon: to patiently and peacefully get members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to give Jesus a real, straightforward, holding-nothing-back try. To take Him from the footnotes of theology and place Him in their hearts. When they do, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will become a Church of Jesus Christ of Born-Again believers, and millions of individuals, along with their families, will freely and openly give praise to God Almighty for the gift of new life instead of the constant manta [sic] of praise to the man (p. 288).
In the end, I must agree with McCraney’s brother, who after seeing the book told McCraney that the title “Born-Again Mormon” is redundant. McCraney responded that while he is “certain there are plenty of Latter-day Saints who have genuinely been spiritually regenerated by God through their faith on Jesus Christ, [most members of the Church] do not possess any semblance of the true, spiritual rebirth.” To McCraney, this is “nothing but a gigantic (and wholly avoidable) religious and spiritual tragedy” ("Introduction").

Despite the problems I see in I Was a Born-Again Mormon, McCraney’s encouragement for Latter-day Saints to become born again can be welcomed by Latter-day Saints who are seeking spiritual rebirth through the Messiah:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters…and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God (Mosiah 27:25-26).
Missing that inheritance would be a gigantic spiritual tragedy.

This explanation can still be seen at http://www.4witness.org/ldsnews/bornagainmormon.php (accessed August 31, 2008). McCraney also describes this attempt at rebaptism in order to “rejoin the Church as a Christian” during one of his Sunstone presentations. See “On the Verge: Will Mormonism Become Christian?” Salt Lake Symposium, 14 August 2004, at the 55:40 mark.

Randall Balmer, Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: A Journey Into the Evangelical Subculture In America, (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 9.


Kent (MC) said...

Blair, I understand the quote by Randall Balmer, yet I don't feel like it really flows with the previous section. I guess I'm not really sure why you include it since there is no real segue with your previous point.

Frankly, I didn't have the name and the face of McCraney put together until the last post and was surprised to learn that it was the same fellow on television that wrote such great things in his book (about how to approach Mormons). I really like his ideas on trying to convert Mormons to an Evangelical worldview since I think it would increase the opportunities for dialogue. I feel sad that he wasn't able to find/receive spiritual nourishment in the LDS Church, but I hope that the Spirit can work with him now to teach him to love as Christ would.

BHodges said...

Thanks for the advice on the quote, this is essentially the rough draft and I believe that was part of what hit the cutting room floor. The edited review is slated to be published in the next issue of the FARMS Review.

As for Shawn, I see a very large disconnect with his comments in the book about the "failure of anti-Mormonism" and the methods he uses on his tv show. I frankly see very little of the respect and honesty McCraney calls for in his book when he sits in front of the camera. I feel bad he didn't quite get it as a member as well and feel that God could be reaching him through his born-again experience. However, his approach to the church in return seems to contradict that view. He says he pays so much attention to Mormonism because he loves Mormons and wants to help them, but I don't really feel the love from Shawn. In his approach I am reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis:

"I think we may accept it as a rule that whenever a person's religious conversation dwells chiefly, or even frequently, on the faults of other people's religions, he is in a bad condition" (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963, p. 209).

Steve Smoot said...

This is why, ultimately, McCraney is the archetype Don Quixote of anti-Mormonism. I think that he has unrealistic goals and aspirations as to what his ministry is able to do. Blair, you recall what McCraney was saying on MA&DB? All that stuff about how he is a driving force behind the Church moving away from Joseph Smith and more towards Jesus? Stuff like that.

Couple that with his intrepid battles with his clever LDS straw-men (kind of like Don Quixote battling those windmills he thought were giants) and you begin to see why I don't take McCraney very seriously.

BHodges said...

McCraney has barely made impact with the vast, vast majority of Mormons, and his methods basically almost instantly turn off most of those he does have contact with through his TV program. As I tried to underscore, though, McCraney's windmill Mormonism has some strange resonances with doctrinal problems we all might encounter in some members of the Church. For that reason I wanted the review to aim more at those areas than at the poor scholarship and aegumentation.

Anonymous said...

As I read your review (great by the way) I was constantly thinking of how McCraney's actions speak so much louder than his words. I can't the guy seriously when he describes a non-confrontational method for converting Mormons but all the while displays the exact antithetical behavior on his show.

Good review Blair. You certainly are making name for yourself (FARMS Review, and I hear you are presenting at Sunstone).

BHodges said...

Thanks. I wanted to write the review without getting in the mud too much, and McCraney's antics on the TV show wouldn't be very agreeable to that approach. Plus I think he originally started out wanting to be what his book describes, but for whatever reason (expectation of producers, his real personality, etc.) he's become bombastic.

Charles said...

This is a great review. Very well done. Some good points are raised about being Born Again, something we could all stand more of. A focus on Jesus and the Atonement is appropriate as is gratitude.

Unfortunately, Shawn is a sort of double minded man and is unstable. Even in his "born again" condition, he misses the mark. I find it hard to believe that he is any happier now than he was before. His nature is erratic and unfocused. But he is probably a little bit better compensated financially, plus he gets huge personal accolades from his audience and that can make a difference in some of the more superficial areas of how one feels about oneself.

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