CES Reply: Introduction

As a freshman at the University of Southern California, I was first exposed to what was then commonly referred to as “anti-Mormon literature.” (*I’m not sure what the post-Mormon term for it is now, but you probably know what I’m talking about.) I read “The Godmakers” from cover to cover, which described a church with a history and doctrines far darker and more sinister than the relatively dull one in which I had spent the entirety of my life. I also ended up listening to a “Christian” radio station which broadcast the rantings of one Walter Martin, who had made a living as an “expert” on “cults” and the “occult,” a world in which Latter-day Saints supposedly play a starring role.

In reviewing the work of these people who had made tearing down my faith their mission, I found myself feeling frustrated, frightened, and powerless – frustrated because I knew that a good chunk of what they were saying was flat-out wrong, frightened because I wasn’t sure if the stuff they claimed that I didn’t recognize was actually true, and powerless because I was in no position to offer any substantive rebuttal.

I returned home to Salt Lake over Christmas break and, out of the blue, I was given a copy of “The Truth About ‘The Godmakers,” a book by a man named Gilbert Scharffs that took “The Godmakers” and refuted every charge in it, line by line, with ample documentation. (You can now read the whole book online – no charge.) I later met Mr. Scharffs after I returned home from my missionary service in Scotland, and I thanked him for his thoughtful reply. What struck me, beyond the saliency of his arguments, was the patient, Christlike tone with which he wrote. Where “The Godmakers” had been inflammatory and insulting, Scharffs had been reasonable and kind, with no attempt to attack or defame his supposed enemies personally.

The CES Letter is quite different in tone from “The Godmakers” and my old pal Walter, who were making the case that the Church is a Satanic cult, whereas Jeremy is making a more intellectual case that the Church is little more than a clumsy, obvious, and occasionally well-intended fraud. So while Walter Martin wanted to tear down my faith to make me a Christian, Jeremy Runnells just wants to tear down my faith and leave me comfortless in the theological rubble. It’s a far bleaker worldview than the one “The Godmakers” was peddling, and it’s also, I think, a far more devastating assault on faith in general.

Runnells insists that he still hasn’t received a reply from the CES director to whom his magnum opus was addressed. I’m no CES Director, but I did teach early morning seminary for three years in Westwood, California, in the meetinghouse right behind the Los Angeles Temple. That experience constituted the entirety of my CES professional connection, 

I was actually paid to teach seminary, more or less making me a CES employee, although my “salary” was only $599 per year. Another dollar and I would have had to declare it on my income tax. (As it was, they labeled the check as “reimbursement for expenses,” but, just to be safe, I still paid tithing on it.) This probably means I was more of a CES contractor than a CES employee, but I prefer the title as it is, even if it contains error. That way, my fallibility will not be in question.

There have been many other attempts to respond, most notably from FairMormon, which Runnells dismisses as a group of “unofficial apologists.” I take from this that only a direct response from the Quorum of the Twelve or the First Presidency would satisfy Runnells as an “official apologist” response. Certainly this response is deeply unofficial – I’m the Second Counselor in the Sunday School Presidency, which is the limited extent of my current ecclesiastical authority. So nothing I write here should be interpreted as anything but the extremely fallible opinion of a rank-and-file church member. One wonders, then, why I would bother to write it at all.

To answer that, I would cite the Gilbert Scharffs example, recognizing that he was actually a CES Director, and so his response might rise to the level of a more official response. Regardless of his credentials, I will be forever grateful to Brother Scharffs for offering solid answers to an ignorant college freshman who was looking for them when the “Godmakers” authors were eager to destroy my faith. 

Nothing I write here has had any impact on the opinion of Jeremy Runnells – he seems to have made up his mind on this stuff – but if there is a single kid, or adult, who reads this and feels a little less frustrated, frightened, or powerless, then writing this will be worth it.

I’ve tried to avoid contention here. The Book of Mormon quotes Jesus as saying that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (See 3 Nephi 11:29-30)

I’m sad to report that I’ve had my share of contentions on subjects like these, and I have no desire to deliberately reproduce that experience here on anywhere else. I also don’t want this to be interpreted as a personal indictment of Jeremy Runnells. He is a man I have never met and a man I am in no position to judge. I don’t think it’s helpful to demonize those who doubt, or even those who leave. At the same time, I have no intention of going easy on the bad arguments that can be found throughout the CES Letter. I hope people do not interpret hostility to bad arguments as personal hostility to the human being who made them. 

In fact, I intend to keep things as light and playful as possible, as I don’t see any reason to treat this thing like a funeral. Just because we’re dealing with issues of eternal salvation, damnation, and hellish lakes of fire and brimstone, there’s no reason we can’t have a little fun.

So, some ground rules – Jeremy’s words will be reproduced here in forest green, the color of life. My responses will be in black, the color of darkness.

With that inspirational background out of the way, we will begin tomorrow with Jeremy’s introduction. In the meantime, be sure to join a Canonizer camp on the subject – or create one of your own.