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Book Review: Mormons Believe…What?! Fact and Fiction about a Rising Religion

Check out a five-part Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast that originally aired on March 20-24, 2017  concerning Lawrence’s book:  Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5

Written by Gary C. Lawrence

Reviewed by Eric Johnson

Synopsis: A Mormon pollster writes a book criticizing the views of outsiders of the Mormon Church who he believes present a wrong portrayal of the LDS religion. In his attempt to clarify, Gary C. Lawrence instead confuses the issue. The result is a book that turns out to be a false barometer for what the Mormon religion stands for while creating false stereotypes about biblical Christianity.

Written in 2011—the year before two LDS Republican candidates ran for the presidency of the United States—Mormons Believe…What?! is a book that was meant to set the record straight regarding the religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the cover jacket, author Gary Lawrence “received a B.A. from BYU in political science in 1967 and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1972.” The public opinion pollster is a lifelong member of the LDS Church who served his mission in Germany and has held leadership positions in his church, including bishop.

His goal is to help outsiders better understand this unique American religion and get beyond the “anti-Mormon” rhetoric” that he believes is too easily believed. In the last full paragraph of the book, he writes this:

One person in five has attended a meeting in which a preacher or minister who was not a Mormon talked about the LDS religion, and about half of them felt the lecture contained at least some inaccuracies—the fun-house mirror, as it were. Even though it would be nice if such presentations were more accurate, I hope they continue to argue against us, counterintuitive as it may sound. The more they challenge our claims and our reasoning, the more people will wonder about our side of the story. And many will check out the facts (p. 197).

In the book’s introduction, Lawrence talks about his perception of the focus group interviews he did on those who did not know his religious background. He writes that

…I heard many skewed perceptions and misinformation about Mormons. One—that we are not Christians—made me want to blurt out, “What part of our name don’t you understand?” (p. x).

He poisons the well (at least in a cute way) when, several paragraphs later, he stated:

Then there’s the publicity from ministers who preach anti-Mormon sermons. But, hey, we were driven out of New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois in the 1800s, and almost out of Utah, so we’re used to it.

To someone who doesn’t know much about Mormonism, I’m sure this book will answer many of their questions the way a Latter-day would appreciate. However, Lawrence’s loose style as well as weak research (only 109 end notes for a 200-page book) adds to the fictional element as he attempts to boost the perception of the LDS religion. Let’s consider eight chapters where this book gets the information wrong in a way that will easily mislead the trusting reader.

Chapter 3: “Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity”

Here are several points made by Lawrence in this chapter:

  • “We reject a doctrine that we maintain is based on a fraudulent insertion into the Bible” (p. 15)
  • “I don’t know who it was—some say Tertullian, who was the first to use the Latin term Trinitas about 200 AD (sic)—but one of the pre-Nicene fathers came up with the idea of providing a three-in-one God: three gods for the polytheistic and one god for the monotheistic. This ‘have it your way’ (apologies to Burger King) description of the Godhead grew legs as bishops converged in Nicaea in 325 AD (sic) for a special council” (p. 16).
  • “The debate raged between the Trinitarians under Athanasius, who maintained that there were three co-equal Gods in one substance, and the anti-Trinitarians under Arius, who maintained that Christ was of a distinct substance from and subordinate to the Father. Constantine signaled his preference and the Arians were routed on a vote of 316 to 2.” (pp. 16-17)
  • “The Bible speaks often about the three members of the Godhead, but the word Trinity appears nowhere.” (p. 17)

Throughout this chapter, much mud is slung at the doctrine of the Trinity with no historical evidence to support his case.  (The chapter has a total of three footnotes: 1) A reference to a Barna poll; 2) a citation of skeptic Bart Ehrman who is no friend of Christianity; 3) several church history resources used by Lawrence for the information in this chapter, but no page numbers.) He so butchers the correct view of the Trinity despite the fact that he doesn’t like it when people disseminate wrong information about Mormon doctrine! Without getting too deep into the doctrine of the Trinity (after all, this is meant to be a book review), let me just tackle a few of his outrageous points.

As far as the idea that the Trinity was somehow “inserted” into the Bible, how is that possible? “The Bible speaks often about the three members of the Godhead, but the word Trinity appears nowhere” (p. 18). He’s right, it’s a Latin word, and the New Testament is written in Koine Greek. He uses Bart Erhman as his source to say that the apostle John did not write 1 John 5:7 included in the King James Version of the Bible. He’s correct, as well-versed Christians would never suggest that the word “trinity” is ever used in the Bible. Lawrence goes on to say how “Trinitarians wrestle this scripture to support the three-in-one claim” (p. 19). There may be some who might attempt that, but we at MRM certainly do not. We would never use this verse to support the Trinity. The evidence in so many other passages regarding the doctrine of the Trinity is overwhelming and thus we are never tempted to use this spurious verse.  I should add that Joseph Smith, out of all people, did keep this verse in his Inspired Version that he finished in 1833! Perhaps Lawrence could explain the conundrum.

Lawrence says there are “three gods for the polytheistic and one god for the monotheistic. This ‘have it your way’ (apologies to Burger King) description of the Godhead grew legs as bishops converged in Nicaea in 325 AD (sic) for a special council.” By suggesting that the Trinity was created to appease the polytheists of the early church while making the monotheists happy, he insults not only the bishops who attended the Council of Nicaea but all Christians who hold to this doctrine. He is not able to correctly define what Christians believe about the Trinity, saying instead that there are “three co-equal Gods in one substance.” Three co-equal gods? If that’s the case, then it would make no sense for Christians to maintain there is only “one God”! This is what we call a straw man fallacy, creating a silly definition for the teaching of the Trinity in order to easily refute it.

Instead of just making up the doctrine, Christians came together in an effort to understand what the Bible taught as truth. Yes, there was a man named Arius who turned Jesus into a subordinate god. This was the issue discussed in Nicaea. When the bishops considered the many applicable passages, they came to understand that the Bible does teach in the existence of one God as revealed in three persons.

Finally, when he says that “Constantine signaled his preference and the Arians were routed” in the voting, he apparently doesn’t realize that Constantine sided with the Arians. Arius taught:

That God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father; that the Word of God was not from eternity, but was made out of nothing; for that the ever-existing God (‘the I AM’—the eternal One) made him who did not previously exist, out of nothing; wherefore there was a time when he did not exist, inasmuch as the Son is a creature and a work. That he is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Father’s true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures, being erroneously called Word and Wisdom, since he was himself made of God’s own Word and the Wisdom which is in God, whereby God both made all things and him also. 

Toward the end of his life, Constantine had become a follower of the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia, who “became Constantine’s principal ecclesiastical adviser. With the emperor’s ear and confidence, he forthwith mounted a campaign to rid the church of the enemies of the subordinationist theology…” (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church Fourth Edition, p. 136). According to a church historian,

Constantine lived as a pagan and died as an Arian. Hardly an admirable curriculum for “the first Christian emperor!” (Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform, p. 164).

Historians tend to agree that, though Constantine did convene the council, he was more interested in peace among the various bishops and allowed them to figure out the biblical teaching. Check out this article that describes the history of the Trinity.

Chapter 5: “Mormons add to the Bible even though God said not to”

Lawrence makes a couple of incredible (but not true) assertions in an attempt to place doubt on the canon of the Bible. He says,

In the Bible’s own pages are references to other books that were once accepted as scripture but which have been lost: Jasher, Solomon, Wars of the Lord, Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Ahijah, Iddo, and the list goes on. If these lost books happened to turn up in an archaeological dig, under what stretched rationale could a don’t-add-anything-to-the-Bible person refuse to accept them? The Bible is obviously not a once-and-final collection of all books that contains all the words the Lord gave to His people in ancient times (p. 32).

He also wrote,

If one found out that the Apostle (sic) Paul had written another letter to the Corinthians besides the two we have in the Bible, would that other letter be scripture? Well, Paul actually did write a letter to the Corinthians before he wrote the one we call First Corinthians, as he reminds them in the fifth chapter of that book. So if that letter and the lost books would be accepted as holy writ if found today, why not then other inspired writings? (p. 32)

Lawrence makes several mistakes. First, he assumes that today’s Christians would receive any newly discovered books (as the ones he mentions) on the par of the current Bible. Yes, Paul did wrote four (or more) letters to the Corinthians. But he assumes wrongly that these other books were meant to be taken as scripture. The books of the Bible were established in the first century (Old Testament at the Council of Jamnia) and the fourth century (New Testament canon finalized in AD 397 at the Council of Carthage). It would be wonderful if archaeologists were to ever run across any of these books, but we must understand that there were reasons why the early Jews and Christians did not hold onto these books. The writings for the apostles, for instance, were meant to be circulated. Yet only those that were written under the direction of the Holy Spirit were supposed to be circulated among people in addition to their original recipients. This would first be obvious from the universal aspect of the great commission given by Jesus to His disciples (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). The written word was one of the means of preserving and propagating the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel that was to be preached to every creature.

Just because Paul wrote a letter doesn’t mean it was meant at scripture. After all, if we found his grocery list and a thank you note he wrote to his mother, would we consider these to be scripture as well?

The question as to whether a writing should be considered scripture really comes down to answering whether or not it is considered something inspired by God. As Paul wrote to his younger protégé Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). All Scripture – all authoritative writing – is given by inspiration of God. Peter wrote that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21; ESV). Edward Young comments,

Canonical books, in other words, are those books which are regarded as divinely inspired. The criterion of a book’s canonicity, therefore, is its inspiration. If a book has been inspired of God, it is canonical, whether accepted by men as such or not. It is God and not man who determines whether a book is to belong to the Canon.” It is thus important to realize that God determined the canon via the process of inspiration. Man does not actually determine the canon; he only recognizes what God has already done. Canonization is essentially the process by which early Christians recognized the books that were inspired of God. Source

A good point is made here:

The Mormons and the Muslims make a similar claim about the New Testament. Both groups affirm that the sacred book peculiar to their faith has been preserved without error, while at the same time claiming that contradictions with the Bible are caused by the corruption of the Scriptures. In other words, the same God who supposedly preserved The Book of Mormon and the Quran in flawless condition was unable, however, to do the same with the New Testament! Such claims impugn the omnipotence of the God of heaven. Is our God sufficiently powerful to cause His word to be recognized and preserved? If God could not, through His providence utilizing the agency of men, cause the correct books to be recognized as canonical, was Peter accurate when he described the gospel as “the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23)? I believe that we can have confidence in the canon of the New Testament. Source

Another reason to reject Lawrence’s arguments is found in the Joseph Smith Translation, also known as the “Inspired Version.” If there were missing books—even the Apocrypha used by the Roman Catholic Church—surely Joseph Smith would have included these books in his translation. However, Smith uses the same 66 books as found in the Protestant canon minus the Song of Solomon. To read more about the JST, consider these articles:

Joseph Smith/Joseph Smith Translation

Chapter 8: ”Mormons Worship a Different Jesus”

Lawrence writes,

But it is insulting and unfair to insist that the LDS do not worship the “same” Jesus as other Christians. By analogy, a Protestant might consider Martin Luther an inspired instrument in the hands of God to reform the wayward Christian Church. A Catholic might rather consider Luther to be a wayward priest who was gravely mistaken. Clearly, the opinions about Luther may differ, but it would be absurd to insist that Catholics and Lutherans are each talking about a different Luther (p. 54).

When Evangelical Christians say that Mormonism has “another Jesus,” they are referring to 2 Corinthians 11:4. It says, “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” In other words, it’s possible to believe in Martin Luther as a person. But people disagree as to who he really was. For instance, some Lutherans might say he was one of the greatest men who ever lived, while some Catholics have said he is the son of Satan himself. Two contradictory ideas of the main cannot both be correct. Somebody must be wrong about their interpretation of who Jesus was.

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie disagreed with Lawrence’s opinion, stating,

However, the mere worship of a god who has the proper scriptural names does not assure one that he is worshiping the true and living God. The true names of Deity, for instance, are applied to the false concepts of God found in the apostate creeds of the day. “There is but one only living and true God who is infinite in being and perfection,” the Presbyterian Confession of Faith correctly recites, and then proceeds to describe a false god who is “without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible” and so forth” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 270).

When Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam are considered, we can see the differences quite readily. For instance, Christians hold that He is the third Person of the Trinity and that anyone who believes in Him will go to heaven. Mormonism says that Jesus is the literal son of Heavenly Father and a heavenly mother (unnamed) who atoned for the sins of all humans on earth; Islam says Jesus is not God but is one of the seven most important prophets and belief in Him as God is blasphemous. In essence, all three faiths have a belief in Jesus but disagree as to who he truly was. It is not a mystery that the views of Jesus as taught by Mormonism contradict biblical Christianity. Even fifteenth LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley stated:

In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints “do not believe in the traditional Christ.” “No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages (“Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads,”Church News, June 20, 1998, p. 7)

He also said,

As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say (“We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90).

I agree with Hinckley that Mormonism’s definition of Jesus is different from what biblical Christianity has traditionally taught. It is not insulting and unfair because the LDS Jesus is not the same as the One I worship.

Chapter 9: “Mormons Believe They are the Only True Church”

Consider Lawrence’s first sentence of this chapter:

Yes, we have used that phrase. But a more accurate statement that we claim to be the only authorized church.

Read that again. “The only authorized church.” Let’s ask several questions:

  • If a church is the “only authorized church,” then by definition is any other church “authorized”?
  • If a church is not authorized, then can it claim any authority?
  • If a church cannot claim any authority, then does it have a right to say that believing in its teachings and precepts can lead a person to God?

Check out several LDS citations emphasizing that this is the “only true church”:

Testify that although other churches teach some truths and do many good things, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth because it is the only church that has the complete gospel of Jesus Christ and the priesthood authority to perform ordinances in the name of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Church. It has his name and his law, and it is led by his appointed representatives. Express your gratitude to Joseph Smith, the prophet through whom the Lord restored the true Church (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 1998, p. 99. Italics in original).

Jesus named His Church today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The words Latter-day show that this is the Church of Jesus Christ in a later time of the earth. Jesus said that this Church is the only true Church in the whole world and that He is pleased with it (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 102. Italics in original).

Baptism into Christ’s true church by proper authority opens the doors for exaltation in the eternal kingdoms of glory, exaltation to be earned by repentance, by living righteously, keeping the commandments of the Lord, and service to one’s fellowmen” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Stone Cut without Hands,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1976, p. 7).

The Mormon Church has a problem thanks to the First Vision, which Joseph Smith claims he had with God the Father and Jesus. In Joseph Smith-History 1:19, Smith asked God “which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.” He was answered in verse 19:

that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.

Remaining politically correct, Lawrence explains his view of other churches:

We believe there are truths to be found in many religions, and that our fellow religionists do much good and preach many doctrines that are true. We seek to build on those truths with our invitation to the world. Bring the truths that you have and see if we can add to them. (p. 61)

While his response might be considered cute (i.e. bring your truths and let us add to them) to some, it really is disingenuous. If we’re talking about the Evangelical (Protestant) churches, Mormonism differs much more than it compares to Christianity. Consider the major teachings of Christianity:

  • The Bible is the inerrant Word of God
  • God is one in essence revealed in three persons
  • Humans had their start at birth
  • People can be glorified but not be exalted
  • Salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works
  • Baptism is not a requirement for justification
  • Temples are no longer necessary for worship
  • Heaven and hell are real places

Mormonism teaches:

  • The Bible is true only as far as it is translated correctly; other scriptures exist
  • God is one in purpose, not essence
  • Humans had their start at the preexistence
  • People can be exalted and become gods of their own worlds
  • Every human receives grace and qualifies for a kingdom of glory, but what one does qualifies a person for the celestial kingdom
  • Temples are required for the celestial kingdom
  • Nobody can qualify for the celestial kingdom without the temple
  • Most people will end up in one of the three kingdoms, but practically nobody will go to Outer Darkness (which is like hell)

The list could go on and on. The point is that, while Mormons and Protestants may call themselves “Christian,” the two religions really are not the same in any way, shape, or form.

Lawrence argues that so many churches disagree about doctrine. He states,

While the Bible indeed contains correct doctrine, its passages have been interpreted so differently by various denominations that an appeal to the Bible has rarely settled disputes. . . the differences in Christendom today are numerous—the mode of baptism, the nature of God, the purpose of life, church organization, responsibilities, repentance, the hereafter, good versus evil, rites and ordinances, the commandments, and on and on. It is one interpretation against another (p. 63).

This is a non sequitur. Just because there are many interpretations of the Bible doesn’t mean they are all wrong. It just means all but one of them is wrong!

Chapter 10: “Mormons Believe they can work their way into heaven”

Lawrence uses straw man arguments in an attempt to make his point in chapter 10. For instance, on page 67, he writes that “it is not enough to confess that Jesus Christ is our personal savior, and go merrily on our way.” Instead, he says “we are required to keep the Lord’s commandments.” “Why bother to go to church?” he asks, assuming that if saved by grace means you can live an antinomian lifestyle. He writes on page 76,

Consider this reasoning: If the Lord overcame both physical and spiritual deaths for us and we had to do nothing but say thanks, would we be motivated to change our lives and become more Christ-like? Not very likely. Gratitude might prod us to live a better life for a while, but not as much as having the success of the endeavor conditioned upon our doing all we can to live His commandments.

Christians do believe in doing good works. This is what they call sanctification. Yet good works should not be used when describing justification. Consider Ephesians 2:8-9, for example. It reads:

 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

A reader who stops here and thinks good works are not important obviously needs to keep on reading. Right after it says that it’s grace, not works, that saves a person, Paul adds verse 10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This goes right along with what James says (2:20) when he taught that “faith without works is dead.”

Paul talks about this very issue in Romans 6 by using the term “sanctification.”  He writes:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Notice how, at the end of this passage, he refers to eternal life as a free gift of God. It’s not something that has to be earned. But Mormons in the mindset of Lawrence can’t comprehend how something of such great value could come at no cost. He writes on page 69:

We cannot work our way into heaven, but we are expected to put in the effort to keep the Lord’s commandments.

He then cites 2 Nephi 25:23, which reads, “It is by the grace of Christ that we are saved after all we can do.” Grace, he says, is nothing more than an enabling power to keep God’s commandments and “can exalt us to the status of a god. (Go ahead, read it again, but note the small ‘g’.)” He writes on page 76:

Thus it is our belief that we must live His commandments (effort), and must recognize and repent of our sins (change). Then, when we nonetheless make mistakes and cannot pay the perfect price as He did, His grace will make up the shortfall. He stands ready to extend His mercy and grace, but why should He do it for lazy freeloaders who aren’t willing to keep His commandments?

I couldn’t believe this when I first read it and had to read it again. In essence, he says God doesn’t want “lazy freeloaders” who are unwilling commandment keepers. OK, so what does He possibly want? Could it be he wants hard-working Saints who not only are willing to keep all the commandments all of the time but those who actually do so? Just because a person tries to keep commandments doesn’t mean he or she is doing it. We need to consider his definition of “enabling power” that God gives His people to keep commandments. If this is true, then shouldn’t the average Mormon have the ability to keep the commandments that have been given? After all, 1 Nephi 3:7 in the Book of Mormon reads,

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

So here’s the million-dollar question that Lawrence and other like-minded Mormons need to answer: Just how are you doing at keeping the commandments? After all, if a person is successfully keeping commandments, then there would be no need to repent, as pretty much every Mormon does each Sunday at sacrament service.

D&C 58:43 says, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” In other words, if a person really repents, the D&C says that he will “forsake” those sins. And D&C 82:7 adds, “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” What a terrible penalty for a person who repents and is forgiven, only to sin again and have all former sins return!

Chapter 12: “Mormons Have Secret Temples and Magic Underwear”

To write a chapter on the temple, Lawrence has been sworn to secrecy and won’t be able to provide many details. Yet what he says here is very interesting. Under the heading “Temples are the Lord’s university,” he claims,

Though the temple at the time of Christ was not functioning according to God’s original intent… Early Christian texts such as the Nag Hammadi library reference elements of temple worship and leave little doubt that the temple ceremony, with its attendant practice of making covenants or promises with our Lord, was practiced by Christ’s disciples following His death and resurrection (p. 83).

The Nag Hammadi library? These are not Christian texts at all but rather Gnostic texts! They were discovered in 1945 and were written in the Coptic language and includes the Gospel of Thomas. While some, such as those who belonged to the infamous Jesus Seminar, think very highly of these texts, conservative biblical scholars dismiss its ideas. The book of 1 John certainly goes against Gnostic teachings.

Lawrence then makes a huge leap of faith when he writes,

The differences between temple worship before and after Christ result from the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the establishment of the higher law brought by Christ. The temple under Mosaic Law included the sacrifice of animals—unblemished first-born bullocks, sheep, etc.—as a symbol of and focus on the coming of the sinless Messiah and His sacrifice for our sins. Once Jesus Christ had accomplished this great atonement, there was obviously no need for further symbolism through the shedding of blood. Members of the church today symbolically place upon the altar a broken heart and a contrite spirit instead.

Notice how Lawrence makes the assumption that the temple in Christ’s day was not functioning the way God intended. In his mind, the sacrifice of animals was only supposed to be done in the Old Testament. What would have happened in those days that would have let the priests know they were to no longer sacrifice animals? He doesn’t say. Jewish priests continued making blood sacrifices all the way until the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. In fact, no blood sacrifice of animals has ever taken place in Mormon temples, just a series of rituals that cannot be ascertained as having ever taken place in the Jerusalem temple. Apparently, Mormons today “symbolically place upon the altar a broken heart and a contrite spirit instead” of a blood sacrifice, even though there is no historical or biblical support to show that temple worship should have ever changed. It is an argument from silence to support the LDS temple rites today, including baptism for the dead, receiving new names, and tokens (handshakes) necessary to get past the angelic sentinels.

As far as temple garments…

Temple garments afford protection. I am sure one could go to extreme in worshiping the cloth of which the garment is made, but one could also go to the other extreme. Though generally I think our protection is a mental, spiritual, moral one, yet I am convinced that there could be and undoubtedly have been many cases where there has been, through faith, an actual physical protection, so we must not minimize that possibility” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 539).

You have had a Garment placed upon you, which you were informed represents the garment given to Adam and Eve when they were found naked in the Garden of Eden, and which is called the “Garment of the Holy Priesthood.” This you were instructed to wear throughout your life. You were informed that it will be a shield and a protection to you inasmuch as you do not defile it and
if you are true and faithful to your covenants” (Second Lecturer,
Post-1990 LDS Endowment Ceremony, Evolution of the Mormon
Temple Ceremony 1842-1990, p. 110).

Despite the lack of the need for the Mormon temple, Lawrence writes this on page 87:

The deeper question is this: Why don’t other Christian religions have temples—these special places, more sacred than the buildings used for general worship, where all the power and blessings that Christ provided for His followers in New Testament times can be received? Temples belong to Christianity as much as the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the atonement, and the resurrection.

He concludes his chapter this way: “The weird Christian religion is not the one with temples; it’s the one without them.”

Chapter 15: “Mormons Practice Polygamy”

Lawrence’s first error in this chapter is found on page 109 when he writes, “There were times in biblical history when God commanded polygamy be practiced, as with Abraham and Jacob, and times when He not.” He then lists some passages from the Standard Works, including D&C 132:27:

The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord.

This verse was not given until the 1840s and was never seen by any of the biblical patriarchs! It was meant for Mormons. As far as the verses he gives from the Bible to support his assertion, not one of them has God directing His people to become involved in polygamous relationships. Here again Lawrence misleads his readers and says something that is not backed by the facts.

He mentions Abraham, but this is the account given in Genesis 16:1-3 (and one of Lawrence’s footnoted references):

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.

It was Sarai whom Abraham listened to, not God! For more on this, see here.

As far as why “God commanded this practice,” he writes,

Given the persecution of the church, there was an imbalance between men and women, and more women needed to be cared for, especially as the church transplanted itself from Illinois to the Utah desert (p. 110).

If you speak to an LDS apologist regarding the issue of polygamy (the marriage on one man to multiple women) , one of the most common arguments still used is pointing to how there were more women than men during the 19th century. Wouldn’t God want these women to be cared for? Polygamy to the rescue!

As Mormon pollster Gary Lawrence reports in his 2011 book Mormons Believe What?!

Given the persecution of the church, there was an imbalance between men and women, and more women needed to be cared for, especially as the church transplanted itself from Illinois to the Utah desert ( p. 110).

This is not true! There were actually more males than females from 1850 through the end of  polygamy. The following citation comes from LDS Apostle John Widtsoe:

The United States census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church. Indeed, the excess in Utah has usually been larger than for the whole United States, as would be expected in a pioneer state. The births within the Church obey the usual population law — a slight excess of males. Orson Pratt, writing in 1853 from direct knowledge of Utah conditions, when the excess of females was supposedly the highest, declares against the opinion that females outnumbered the males in Utah. (The Seer, p. 110) The theory that plural marriage was a consequence of a surplus of female Church members fails from lack of evidence (Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 391).

Using Utah census records, one website says that the number of Utah having more males than females should actually go through 1960. The website states:

In Utah (1850s to 1890s), the average age of a 2nd wife was 17 (husband average age early 30s) and the average age of a third wife was 19 (husband average age mid to late 30s). The average age in the USA for a first marriage in the late 19th century was about 22. Mormon men in their 30s (or 40s or 50s) married teenagers because of the shortage of Mormon girls for extra wives.

Notice that if the average age of a 2nd wife is 17, then there had to be a lot of girls only 14 or 15 or 16 in order to make the average 17 since there would have been some women in their 20s who became plural wives.

Utah population:

1850 total 11,380      male 6,046          female 5,334

1860 total 40,273      male 20,255        female 20,018

1870 total 86,786      male 44,121        female 42,665

1880 total 143,963    male 74,509        female 68,454

1890 total 210,779    male 111,975      female 98,804

1900 total 276,749    male 141,687      female 135,062

Lawrence says that this was also needed because of the “persecution of the church.” This would mean that many LDS men were being killed or physically maimed so they couldn’t bear children. Yet he offers no support for the idea that such persecution drained the LDS male population. On page 110 he writes,

Because original Christianity needed to be re-established to be the forerunner for the Second Coming of the Savior in all countries, there was a need to jump-start its growth.

He offers no support. This is because his statement conflicts with the historical evidence. According to Stanley Ivans in his book The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past,

Jacob 2:30 does offer a single exception: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” In an essay titled “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” writer Stanley Ivans states, “While polygamy increased the number of children of the men, it did not do the same for the women involved. A count revealed that 3,335 wives of polygamists bore 19,806 children, for an average of 5.9 per woman. An equal number of wives of monogamists taken from the same general group bore 26,780 for an average of 8. This suggests the possibility that the overall production of children in Utah may have been less than it would have been without benefit of plurality of wives.” (edited by D. Michael Quinn, p. 177).

Read Ivans’s citation again. Polygamists were having 5.9 children per wife compared to 8 children being born to monogamists. Meanwhile, there were more men than women in 19th century Utah. Lawrence is doing nothing more than perpetuating a myth.

Chapter 20: “Mormon Leaders Control Every Facet of a Mormon’s Life”

Lawrence describes what he calls the “unpaid ministry” with several interesting comments. For instance:

The big sociological difference between the LDS Church and other denominations is that none of our local leaders are paid. We preach for free what the Savior gave us for free. Not a religious franchisee among us. (p. 155)

While many of his points are cute, much of what Lawrence writes in his book are certainly barbed and meant with a purpose. Technically, he is correct in the statement above because “local (Mormon) leaders” are not paid for their time. Yet how many Mormons believe that this means all of their leaders, no matter what level, are volunteers? He then writes on page 156:

No stake president, no bishop, and no other leaders in our local congregations make a penny from their church assignments. The website estimates the average annual pay for ministers in the United States is around $44,000. If these salaries were applied to the LDS bishops and branch presidents in the approximately 14,000 wards and branches in America, it would mean $620 million would be spent just to put rice and beans on their tables and roofs over their families’ heads. (p. 156)

Still, Lawrence does admit that the higher level leaders are paid:

Of course, every major organization needs full-time leaders and staff at the top, but paying ministers at the local level? Where did that idea come from? Did Peter sit down one day and ask himself, “What job could I invent so I could have fine clothes, the admiration of the community, and not smell like fish?” (p. 155)

These are low blows indeed. But is his sarcasm warranted? When Lawrence asks “where did that idea come from” regarding local leaders receiving salaries, the answer is “the Mormon Jesus Himself.” Indeed, the idea to force bishops, the stake president, and other local leaders to work for nothing goes against the LDS Standard Works. Consider what was said in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C)—supposedly given to LDS Church founder Joseph Smith—regarding how local leaders should be paid. D&C 42:71-73 says that bishops (as well as elders and high priests who assist these bishops) are to receive “a just remuneration for all their services.” D&C 75:24 specifically names certain men who were called missionaries and states that “it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those [missionaries], and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.”

I have referenced these verses in conversations with Latter-day Saints on several occasions and can never get a satisfactory response. Although most Mormons today do not publicly mock the fact that many Christian pastors are paid, some like Lawrence continue to do so. Could his sarcasm be a result of what has been ingrained in his mind by the church’s leaders? For example, in the pre-1990 version of the Mormon endowment ceremony that took place six days a week in every temple existing at that time, there was one scene that described how Lucifer and a Protestant minister made a gentleman’s agreement. This is how the conversation went:

ADAM: I am looking for messengers.

LUCIFER: Oh, you want someone to preach to you. You want religion, do you? I will have preachers here presently.

(Lucifer turns his head as a PROTESTANT minister approaches.)

LUCIFER: Good Morning sir!


(The preacher turns and looks into the camera.)

PROTESTANT MINISTER: A fine congregation!

LUCIFER: Yes, they are a very good people. They are concerned about religion. Are you a preacher?


LUCIFER: Have you been to college and received training for the ministry?

PROTESTANT MINISTER: Certainly! A man cannot preach unless has been trained for the ministry.

LUCIFER: Do you preach the orthodox religion?

PROTESTANT MINISTER: Yes, that is what I preach.

LUCIFER: If you will preach your orthodox religion to these people, and convert them, I will pay you well.

PROTESTANT MINISTER: I will do my best.

Notice how Lucifer made an arrangement with the pastor who responds by saying how he “will do (my) best” just after he was told how he would be “well” paid. What is the image? That pastors and priests were paid hirelings of Satan himself.

Despite Lawrence’s admission that the “full-time leaders and staff are paid,” he certainly doesn’t go into any details about how much these workers get paid. For instance, a mission president’s handbook was released in 2012 (later taken down) on the Internet detailing the financial benefits received by mission presidents. While using very conservative numbers, we discovered that mission presidents in the United States bring in benefits beginning at $100,000 per year! In some parts of this nation, that number could easily reach $200,000. While the Doctrine and Covenants says that bishops should be paid, it remains silent about mission presidents. What scriptural precedence is there that mission presidents should receive financial rewards in the six figures?

Look at some of the benefits that a mission president receives:

  • Rent for a fully-furnished home
  • All utilities, including gas and electricity, water, sewer
  • House cable and phone
  • Maid for 20 hours a week
  • Gardener
  • Food, including meals out
  • Household supplies
  • Clothing
  • Dry cleaning
  • Cars
  • Gas
  • Car maintenance
  • Insurance, including medical, auto, renter’s, life, dental
  • Medical bills
  • Weekends away/gathering
  • Phones for the entire family
  • Presents for birthday and Christmas
  • Plane flight for oldest child to visit from college
  • School expenses
  • College undergrad tuition
  • Lessons for children (sports, music, tutoring, etc)
  • And there’s more

According to the handbook, the church tells these employees to keep these financial benefits secret with everyone, including their tax preparers. It appears that these benefits are not supposed to be considered salaries and are apparently not taxed by the federal and state governments! We’re still not sure how such a system is legal, even if much of the expenses could be considered “housing allowances” provided to licensed and ordained clergy. But much of the benefits that are given (i.e. food, weekends away, etc) are not covered under other clergy’s “housing allowances.” For more on this topic, check out the original article we wrote back in 2012 titled “What Does ‘Unpaid Ministry’ Look Like?

Meanwhile, seminary and institute teachers—those who administer classes in local areas to the faith’s high school and college students—generally receive the same salaries as the teachers in that public school district. Aren’t those men and women considered “local leaders”? And again, where does the D&C say that these teachers should receive a salary/wage? It all seems very inconsistent.

In early 2017, paycheck stubs for several general authorities were discovered and released on the Internet. This proves that general authorities such as apostles are making six-figure salaries, paid as wages. Check out this article titled “Mormon Business: Paying the Church’s Unpaid Clergy” showing how LDS general authorities are compensated for their time and efforts. While some might argue that what they make is little compared to CEO’s of private companies, this is not the point. Instead, this shows that these leaders are receiving wages, even though there doesn’t appear to be any support for this in unique LDS Standard Works.

Besides the fact that the D&C seems to encourage paying local church leaders, the question should be asked as to why aren’t they paid? After all, a bishop is in charge of 300-600 congregants! That’s a pretty large number. How is this man supposed to take care of the needs of these people, including interviewing his ward’s temple patrons every couple of years to see if they should keep their temple recommend cards, while managing a family (with children) and working a full-time + job? This would seem to be a pretty impossible task. Certainly the work can get done, but is the work being done well? Wouldn’t it be better if these men were allowed to dedicate themselves full-time to their work among the dozens of families they serve so they could better meet the needs of their people rather than being incredibly stressed by trying to juggle so many responsibilities at once?

Mormons are free to mock the Christian clergy and the fact that many of them receive a living wage, but as the saying goes, those who live in glass houses should be careful about throwing stones.


The title of this book (Mormons Believe…What?! Fact and Fiction about a Rising Religion) is nothing less than ironic. He stretches facts and, to the unknowing reader, confuses the issue. When he says that Mormonism is a “rising religion,” it’s true that it is growing. However, in the past few years since the book was written, the percentage of growth has gone down. In the April 2016 general conference, the growth rate of the church (1.7%) was at its lowest level since 1937.  In fact, in 1989 and 1990, the growth rate was 8.74% and 6.19%, respectively.

What happened? People are learning the history of the church, which was masked for many until recent years with the explosion of information on the Internet. Facts such as Joseph Smith using a seer stone to “translate” the Book of Mormon or bedding 14-year-old teenagers and married women have even been acknowledged by the Mormon Church, to the shock of many faithful Mormons.

This work doesn’t help cut to the chase. Instead, it is meant to be faith-promoting. I imagine it has been given to doubting teens by their parents in an attempt to shut down the information they are bringing home.  It is a book that is better off being out of print rather than causing the utmost confusion for so many who want to better understand what Mormons are really taught.

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