Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Mormons Score Highest On Points of Christianity

I have long been intrigued by the devoted and deliberate manner in which Mormons (LDS) live out their faith. Some might even label their purposeful and structured practices as "methodical." Particularly striking is the cultural expectation placed on their youth: the voluntary sacrifice of two years of their lives in service as a missionary. Incidentally, this missionary service is based on an appointment system administered by church leadership.

If you are already beginning to find parallels between the LDS and the faith practices of early Methodist circuit-riders, small wonder. Just as Methodism was sweeping across the face of Texas during the period the New Republic winning converts with a dominance that no three other denominations combined could match, the LDS is also still experiencing that same kind of phenomenal growth in the 21st century. In contrast, the UM church is currently in decline, as are all other Protestant denominations. Why?

Haunted by a driving passion to uncover the truth lying in the paradox between the remarkable effectiveness of Methodist practices 150 years ago and while struggling through the disheartening decline of our church today, I began a personal study of the LDS culture. For the last year and a-half I have orally read almost the entire Book of Mormon while being tutored by an LDS elder using seminary study guides during our lunch break every day at work.

What I have discovered is that what the LDS know and believe is of no greater importance in their dominant church culture than the way that they live out their faith. There is nothing passive or retiring about the practices for living out each individual member's call to discipleship. There is a strong cultural expectation for personal, spiritual integrity throughout the body of the church.

In essence, they know about their faith because they live it out in a way that no mainline denomination even attempts to do. By living out their faith in such a sacrificial manner it becomes more than just a belief system, it becomes an ingrained way of life. Major theological differences aside, this is pretty much the same type of dramatic witness provided to the world by sacrificial service of the early Methodist circuit-riding preachers.

I proudly claim my Wesleyan heritage and consider myself well-versed in Methodist history. So when I discovered that the successful faith-practices of the LDS church of today looks remarkably like the Methodist church culture 150 years ago I immediately ask myself, "When/why did we cease to live the word 'church' as a verb and instead resign it to function as merely a noun?"

Americans Don't Know Much About Religion?

AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll entered an interesting story entitled Americans Don't Know Much About Religion on Sept 28, 2010 from which the excerpt below appears:

"A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

The survey was recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but faith leaders and educators have long lamented that Americans still know relatively little about religion.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.
Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15. On questions about Christianity, Mormons scored the highest."

I find the overall results of the survey somewhat disappointing, especially when "atheists and agnostics scored highest" in various points on religion. But while I find the last line to be the most condemning commentary of professing Christians, it hardly comes as any surprise, at least to me. The great irony is, of course, that most all Christian faith groups identify the Mormons belief system as a cult. If that's so, why are they so much more knowledgeable of the Christian faith that their detractors? The answer may surprise you.