Doctrine and Heritage

By Bill McKeever

A common element often overlooked when Christians share their faith with Latter-day Saints is that many Mormons are not Mormon merely for doctrinal reasons. This can be very frustrating to us since we often view doctrinal truth as a primary reason for being what we are.

On several occasions I have spoken to members of the LDS Church who recognize that Mormonism has doctrinal problems. However, they are reluctant to abandon their Mormonism because, in their mind, this would be a betrayal of their pioneer ancestors. To leave the “Restored Church” is seen as a major case of familial disrespect. Surprisingly, I have even seen this trait in recent converts to the LDS Church. Members who have no genetic relation to the struggling LDS pioneers of the nineteenth century often readily embrace their hardships as their very own. Though I would never justify this type of reasoning as an excuse for ignoring truth, it is something that we must understand when sharing biblical teaching with our Mormon friends.

A classic example of this emphasis on heritage can be seen in the “Days of 47 Parade” held here in Salt Lake City every July 24th. This parade began as a religious celebration to commemorate when Brigham Young led several followers to the Salt Lake Valley. The “Days of 47 Parade” is considered to be one of the largest and oldest parades in the U.S.

There is no escaping its Mormon emphasis. For instance, the day begins with a “Sunrise Service” in the LDS Conference Center north of Temple Square. Consider also that before viewers at the 2004 parade saw Utah Governor Olene Walker drive by, they had already seen four entries go by with a distinctive LDS theme. These included tributes to the Mormon Battalion as well as a memorial to those early Mormons who had pulled handcarts to the Salt Lake valley between 1856 and 1860.

Each year a prominent member of the LDS Church is featured in a vehicle that proceeds the governor. (In 2004 James Faust of the LDS First Presidency was entry number five while Walker was entry number seven.) Even though the parade now includes some non religious and even non LDS entries, it is clear this is an event intended to remind members of the LDS Church that its heritage is not to be forgotten.

Some of the floats contain miniature displays of LDS temples. One emphasized the importance of genealogy while another included LDS members dressed up as characters from the Book of Mormon. The 2004 parade even featured a float celebrating Utah’s inordinately high consumption of green Jell-O.

My purpose in pointing this out is not to cast aspersions. Quite the contrary, I wish more Christians would take the time to learn the rich Christian history that came about after the book of Acts. We can learn much from the struggles of early Christians as well as from their mistakes. No, my point in bringing all of this out is to encourage patience when we speak with our LDS friends. It is easy to feel that, once the discrepancies of Mormonism are exposed, a Mormon will quickly embrace biblical truth at the expense of his heritage. This is not always true.

The heritage factor is a difficult obstacle to overcome. For years the Joseph Smith Memorial Building featured an emotionally charged film called Legacy that recalled the persecutions faced by early Mormons. The film was centered around a character named Eliza who, in her old age, recounts the story of the Mormon struggle to her young grandson. At the end of the film, the aging Eliza gives the boy a copy of the Book of Mormon given to her by Joseph Smith. With it she warns her grandson to “make sure that this legacy of faith may never die.” I am sure this message is not lost on the LDS audience.