A Response to the Mysterious "Paul Allen" Letter on Mormons

A Response to the Mysterious “Paul Allen” Letter on Mormons 

By Bill McKeever

For several years now, Mormons have been circulating an email allegedly written by NFL owner Paul Allen that they feel supports the claim that Mormons are Christians. First of all, there was a letter written by a Paul Allen that praised the Mormons that was printed in a Santa Clarita, California newspaper, but it was not the Paul Allen who owns the Seattle Seahawks. At Snopes.com you will find the following:

Origins: The above-quoted letter to the editor by one Paul Allen was indeed published on the opinion page of the Santa Clarita Valley (California) Signal on 24 November 2000. Within five months, someone had re-typed the letter (because the Signal didn’t then publish letters to the editor on its web site) and started it circulating on the Internet via e-mail forwards (most of which erroneously stated that it had first been published on 25 April 2002). However, the Paul Allen who wrote this piece was not (as claimed in the example above) the Paul Allen who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates (and regularly ranks high on lists of the world’s wealthiest people) — he was simply a local resident with the same name. Nonetheless, after the e-mail version of Paul Allen’s editorial had been making the rounds for only a month, the Signal had received such a deluge of messages inquiring whether they had ever really published such a letter that the newspaper’s general manager, Tim Whyte, saw fit to reprint it along with an editorial explaining its origins and the phenomenon it had become: At first, I didn’t think much of the e-mails. I answered each as carefully and completely as I could. Little did I know, within a week I would go from being managing editor of The Signal to being “The Guy Who Answers E-mails From Curious Members of the LDS Church Throughout the World Who Want to Know if we REALLY Published a Letter from Paul Allen Praising the Mormons.” I have tried to remain professional and helpful to those making the queries, but to be quite frank, it has become a bit overwhelming. I haven’t counted, but suffice to say the number of inquiries is easily in the several hundreds. The e-mails and phone calls have come to me from all over — Utah, of course, but also a wide array of states ranging from Hawaii to the Beast Coast, and several out of Canada, from Toronto to the remote reaches of Manitoba. (Brrr.) Other nations have been represented, too, including Australia and New Zealand. Apparently, members of the Mormon faith get beat up a lot in the court of public opinion around the nation and world. You wouldn’t know it here in Santa Clarita. And again, when I think “Mormon,” I still tend to think, “Cute Girls.” But there is an almost-sad level of disbelief in these e-mails I receive from people, literally from across the globe, who apparently feel as if their religion is marginalized and ostracized. The people who have sent me notes are invariably incredulous, as if it’s unlikely that a letter complimentary to the Mormon faith would be penned by someone outside the faith, and then, in turn, published by a community newspaper: Can you please confirm that this letter was really published? Well, yes. It really was. And here, on this page, accompanying this column, is a copy of the original letter. No, I don’t have tearsheets available for those who want original copies, but we’ll post this version on our web site — making an exception to our typical policy under which one must actually buy the newspaper to read letters to the editor — so LDS church members worldwide can copy the text of the letter and get the confirmation they seek, right here in this column. Yes, the letter is complimentary to Mormons. Yes, we really published it-nearly two years ago, but thanks to Internet wizardry and LDS members’ skepticism, it’s all the rage on Planet Earth and in cyberspace right now. And now, back to your regularly scheduled community newspaper. Well over five years after its initial publication, Paul Allen’s letter is still the subject of inquiry (here at snopes.com and at The Signal as well), hence its inclusion here.

At MRM we’ve received quite a few emails and phone calls from Latter-day Saints who want to offer their criticisms and complaints while attempting to pass themselves off as non-Mormons. I can’t help but wonder if the post below is another example. Though this writer uses third person (them, they, their) when describing the LDS people, he uses phrases that sound just a bit too Mormon to make me think he may not be one. If the author of this letter would like to provide me with evidence that he is not LDS, I will certainly note it in this article.

Despite the myth behind this email, I’d still like to respond to some of the reasons Mr. Allen (whoever he is) gives that makes him conclude that the Mormon Church is a Christian church. My response is in bold. It reads as follows:

Subject: Fwd: NFL OWNER, PAUL ALLEN, SPEAKS OUT ON MORMONS MICROSOFT FOUNDER, NFL OWNER, PAUL ALLEN, SPEAKS OUT ON MORMONS Paul Allen is the owner of the Seattle Seahawks, the ones who played the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Super Bowl a few years ago. He is also the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers NBA basketball team and is co-partner with Bill Gates in Microsoft. He wrote this editorial in the Santa Clarita, California newspaper:

See above.

I have heard and seen enough! I have lived in the West all my life. I have worked around them. They have worked for me and I for them. When I was young, I dated their daughters. When I got married they came to my wedding. Now that I have daughters of my own, some of their boys have dated my daughters. I would be privileged if one of them were to be my son-in-law. I’m talking about the Mormons. They are some of the most honest, hardworking people I have ever known. They are spiritual, probably more than most other so-called religious people I have encountered. They study the Bible and teach from it as much as any Christian church ever has.

In the circles I travel, no one doubts that many Mormons try to be honest, hardworking people. Yes, they are spiritual, and while this person’s personal experience might cause him to conclude that their level of spirituality is “more than most other so-called religious people,” it would certainly be difficult to prove that their spiritual sincerity outranks that of other religious people. Limited personal observation is hardly a scientific study. But even if Mormons do exude a high level of spirituality, how does this prove that Mormonism is Christianity, or that Mormons are Christian? Like many, Mr. Allen makes the mistake of confusing moralism with Christianity. Do Mormons study and teach from the Bible “as much as any Christian church ever has”? How would this person know this to be true unless he has attended quite a few LDS services? I think a better question would be how most Mormons view the Bible. I find that many LDS pay lip service to the Bible only until it is used to expose problems in LDS teaching. At that point it is not at all uncommon for the Mormon to disregard the Bible’s trustworthiness by questioning its translation and transmission.

They serve their religion without pay in every conceivable capacity. Not one of their leaders, teachers, counselors, Bishops or music directors receive one dime for the hours of labor they put in. The Mormons have a non-paid ministry – a fact that is not generally known.

A non-paid ministry is a myth. It is true that lower level LDS Church leaders such as bishops are not paid for their services (even though their own scripture says bishops should receive “just remuneration” for their services in D&C 42:71-71; 52:13,14), but to conclude that “not one of their leaders” receive “one dime for the hours of labor they put in” is certainly naive. The LDS Ch
urch has a number of full-time “general authorities.” Are we to assume that all of them are independently wealthy and are able to donate their time to their church? If not, how do they put food on the table and pay their electric bills? So what if they are paid? There is certainly nothing unbiblical about a paid ministry (see I Corinthians 9).

I have heard many times from the pulpits of others how evil and non-Christian they are and that they will not go to heaven. I decided recently to attend one of their services near my home to see for myself.

Not having a context for the charge that Mormons are called evil makes it difficult to respond. If this description is connected with the charge of being non-Christian I surmise that even most Mormons would agree that an evil Mormon will not go to heaven (well, at least not the celestial kingdom). Bear in mind that it is usually Mormons who equate having their Christianity challenged with being accused of being bad, or evil people. I personally want to make sure that I am not making that distinction when I speak to Mormons. While it is true that all humans are sinners, I do not believe that simply not being a Christian makes a person “evil.”

What a surprise! What I heard and saw was just the opposite from what the religious ministers of the day were telling me. I found a very simple service with no fanfare. I found a people with a great sense of humor and a well-balanced spiritual side. There was no loud music. Just a simple service, with the members themselves giving the several short sermons.

Mr. Allen attends “one of their services” and concludes that Mormons must be Christian because the service was simple, the people had a good sense of humor, and they didn’t play loud music. This is supposed to be in contradiction to what the “ministers of the day” had been saying. I’ve read and heard a lot of criticism of Mormonism from Christian ministers, but never have I heard them accuse the Mormons of not having a sense of humor, having elaborate services, or playing loud music. I still don’t understand how this qualifies Mormonism as Christian.

They urge their youth to be morally clean and live a good life. They teach the gospel of Christ, as they understand it. The name of their church is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints. Does that sound like a non-Christian church to you?

The “gospel of Christ, as they understand it,” is the foundation of this whole controversy. The LDS definition of the gospel is not the definition used by Christians for centuries. The use of the name “Jesus Christ” is a common Mormon argument meant to prove that Mormonism is Christian. This is an entirely inadequate argument that proves absolutely nothing. Religious organizations in the United States have the freedom to call themselves anything they like, regardless of their doctrinal position. If the Jehovah’s Witnesses changed their official title to “The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Jesus Christ” would that make it “Christian”? Absolutely not.

I asked them many questions about what they teach and why. I got answers that in most cases were from the New Testament. Their ideas and doctrines did not seem too far fetched for my understanding.

Not knowing exactly what those questions were, or which verses the Mormons used, makes it difficult to respond. However, just because Mr. Allen felt that their “ideas and doctrines” did not seem too far-fetched “for his understanding” again proves nothing, unless we first know how much of the New Testament Mr. Allen actually understands in the first place. Those who have a good understanding of the Bible tend to place Mormonism outside the parameters of the Christian faith.

When I read their “Book of Mormon” I was also very surprised to find just the opposite from what I had been told I would find.

Again, because no details are supplied, this statement means nothing. What was he allegedly told and how does the Book of Mormon supposedly refute what he was told?

Then I went to another church’s pastor to ask him some of the same questions about doctrine. To my surprise, when he found out that I was in some way investigating the Mormons, he became hostile. He referred to them as a non-Christian cult. I received what sounded to me like evil propaganda against those people. He stated bluntly that they were not Christian and that they did not fit into the Christian mold. He also told me that they don’t really believe the Bible. He gave me a pile of anti-Mormon literature. He began to rant that the Mormons were not telling me the truth about what they stand for. He didn’t want to hear anything good about them. At first I was surprised and then again, I wasn’t. I began to wonder.

How Mr. Allen defines being “hostile” is very important. Unfortunately all we are have to help us understand his definition is a pastor he claims said that Mormons are part of a non-Christian cult and did not fit the Christian mold. This may surprise Mr. Allen, but I would venture to say that all pastors who value biblical truth tend to categorize Mormonism that way. Mormonism does fit the traditional definition of a cult, it claims to represent true Christianity while it denies or distorts Christian teaching. This, of course, makes it “non-Christian.” If Mormons really did believe the Bible they certainly wouldn’t embrace the contradictory teachings of Joseph Smith or the current LDS leadership.

I have never known of a cult that supports the Boy Scouts of America. According to the Boy Scouts, over a third of all the Boy Scout troops in the United States are Mormon.

Perhaps that is because Mr. Allen makes it clear that he doesn’t believe the Mormon Church is a cult in the first place? Still, what in the world does supporting the Boy Scouts have to do with Christianity?

What cult do you know of that has a welfare system second to none in this country? They have farms, canneries and cattle ranches to help take care of the unfortunate ones who might be down and out and in need of a little help. The Mormon Church has donated millions to welfare causes around the world without a word of credit. They have donated thousands to help rebuild Baptist churches that were burned a few years ago. They have donated tons of medical supplies to countries ravaged by earthquakes.

Indeed, the LDS Church does have the monetary and organizational wherewithal to help people in need, but what do any of these things have to do with proving that Mormonism is part of Christianity? Mr. Allen is again confusing Christianity with moralism.

Mormons do this “without a word of credit”?

Apparently Mr. Allen doesn’t subscribe to the LDS Church News.

You never see them on TV begging for money.. What cult do you know that instills in its members to obey the law, pay their taxes, serve in the military if asked and be a good Christian by living high moral standards? Did you know that hundreds of thousands of Mormon youth get up before high school starts in the morning to attend a religious training class? They have basketball and softball leagues and supervised youth dances every month.

Many religious and non-religious groups (including atheists and agnostics) encourage family and friends to obey the law, pay their taxes, etc. While LDS high schoolers certainly show a devotion to their church programs by attending early morning classes, this does not prove that what they are learning is orthodox Christianity. Sports events and dances makes an organization Christian?

They are recruited by the FBI, the State Department and every police department in the country, because they are Trustworthy. They are taught not to drink nor take drugs. They are in the Secret Service – those who protect the President. They serve in high leadership positions from both parties in Congress and in the US Sen
ate, and have been governors of several states other than Utah. They serve with distinction and honor.

People from all sorts of backgrounds are employed with the FBI, the state Department, etc., and I am sure that none who have drinking or drug problems remain in their employ. All this proves is that Mormons are employable, it does not support the claim that Mormonism is Christian.

If you have Mormons living near, you will probably find them to be your best friends and neighbors. They are Christians who try to live what they preach. They are not perfect and they are the first to admit this. I have known some of them who could not live their religion, just like many of us. The rhetoric which is spread around against them is nothing more than evil propaganda founded in untruths. (Others) had successfully demonized them to the point that the general public has no idea what they actually believe and teach. If you really want to know the truth, go see for yourself. You also will be surprised.

This paragraph sounds incredibly similar to many I have received from members of the LDS Church. I have often said Mormons make very good neighbors, I personally have great Mormon neighbors. However, that ignores the core reasons why Mormonism (emphasis on the “ism”) is a focus of attention. Mr. Allen, like many members of the LDS Church, see any criticism as “evil propaganda.” In doing so they refuse to entertain the thought that these criticisms might have merit. As in his example of the pastor he claims to have visited, he sees a long list of problematic issues as nothing but a rant to be dismissed out of hand. Mormonism is probably one of the more scrutinized religions in the world and while there certainly is misinformation out there, much of what has been written has been quite accurate.

When I first moved here some 25 years ago there were five Mormon wards in Santa Clarita, Calif. Now there are 15. They must be doing something right.

Using this type of horrible logic must we also assume that Islam is “doing something right” since in the 1960s there were only around 20 mosques nationwide. Today that number has grown one hundredfold. Despite Islam’s late start, Mormonism trails Islam when it comes to US growth. While growth and good behavior may be seen as positive bullet points for an organization, I can only hope that people will think carefully before concluding that this makes an organization “Christian.” If Mr. Allen wants to support his conclusion that Mormonism is Christian, he would have done a better service to the community in which he lived had his letter to the editor supported LDS doctrine from the Bible using sound rules of hermeneutics.