Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How To Argue With A Mormon And Win

Previously: The Actual Message of the Book of Mormon

I wish I lived closer to Ohio, because on the weekend of May 9th, Sunstone is sponsoring an event featuring participants from all the various Mormon traditions: Josephites, Brighamites, Strangites, and maybe even a fundamentalist or two, along with a smattering of non-members and former members of the various offshoots of our once unified community.  These participants will be gathering that weekend to discuss their differences, but mostly to recognize the commonalities they share.

Little did the six original members of that fledgling church imagine that within 14 years of its founding, an estimated 25,000 converts would join their ranks to headquarter at Nauvoo, Illinois. Nor did they expect that quite suddenly the church would splinter off in all directions, its members bickering over questions of doctrine and leadership.

It's fitting that this historic gathering, culminating in a Sunday worship service as in days of old, will be held within the walls of the Kirtland temple itself, a venue that was constructed long before either the prophet or his associates ever suspected their descendants would end up biting and scratching at each other for generations to come over petty issues.  We may still have our differences, but most of us accept and revere the Book of Mormon. Why not recognize what unites us, despite our other differences?  (If you are at all able to attend this event, you'll find registration information here.)

If factions of the original 1830 Church of Christ can celebrate their commonality, I wonder: why am I seeing petty online bickering between members of my own denomination? A mutual, civil argument is a wonderful thing. Even God is in favor of that. "Come," the Lord says through Isaiah, "Let us reason together."  But the spirit of God does not attend us when we quarrel, which is as distant from a reasoned argument as one can get.

It's too bad the word "argument" is so misunderstood these days. Arguing is one way we can learn new things from one another. A civil argument persuades through the use of reason, logic, and common sense, with the aim of coming to an understanding.  But having a civil argument is not the same as being argumentative. An argumentative person is quarrelsome and contentious and tends to stir up anger. Our scriptures teach us that the spirit of contention is of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29).

The argumentative person is often motivated by pride. He believes he knows more than you do, and maybe he does; but a quarrelsome person rarely wins his opponent over. He considers it a win if he succeeds in a verbal beatdown of his opponent. God's favored method is persuasion, and in order for persuasion to be effective, an argument cannot be presented smugly, but in a spirit of gentleness and meekness (D&C 121).

Arguing To Win 
In the past year or two, I have both followed and participated in countless online theological discussions with my fellow latter-day Saints. The great majority of these engagements have been enlightening and edifying for all involved. But I've followed some very cantakerous quarrels that never reached a happy conclusion, eventually fizzling out with bad feelings overall. I think it's a travesty that any two members of the church of Christ would become angry with each other over points of doctrine. But that's what happens when ego enters the ring. Your ego wants to win, so you have to leave your ego out of it. Unless you want to ultimately lose.

On more than one occasion I have seen petty bickering devolve into accusations that, because one party does not hold the same views as the other feels he should, that party is not a "proper" latter-day Saint, or not devout enough, or lacks faith, or even that maybe he or she just isn't good enough to abide within our ranks and should just leave the church and join another denomination, because clearly their views are not in harmony with the mainstream of the church. I've had accusations like that thrown at me merely for promoting the idea that scripture trumps myth, false teachings, and vain traditions.

Yet our founding prophet rejected the idea that members should be required to believe a certain way or get out.  Strict religious dogmatism smacked "too much like the Methodists," Joseph Smith insisted, "and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine." (Lyndon Cook,editor, The Words of Joseph Smith, pg 184)

Joseph taught that doctrinal differences should never divide us, but that we should focus on that which unites us all. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the gospel of salvation which he revealed?" the prophet asked. "Well, so do I. Christians should cease wrangling with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Pg 314)

Do you want to learn how to win an argument with a fellow Mormon?  All you have to do is make sure the other guy wins, too.

You do that by hearing him out. Rather than attack him, seek to understand his point of view. If he holds to an interpretation of scripture that differs from yours, patiently explain your own reasoning as to why you feel that scripture means something other than what he believes, but do it with kindness, meekness, and love unfeigned (D&C 121).  We Mormons deserve to explore our religion together.  Mormon theology is a vast topic none of us really has a complete handle on, so let's dive in and learn together. This is not a contest between us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to insure that everybody wins.

Where Is Your Shovel When There Is Work To Be Done?
I have a promise to keep that I made in the comment section back in February to a young antagonist who went by the initials "AW." AW had expended quite a bit of effort trying to goad me and other readers into a fight over issues I don't even recall anymore. Before he left in a huff with his final comment (Come back, AW! We miss you! ), he posted a link to a Google Doc that he said "sums up my feelings about this blog." (Note: AW's feelings about this blog were consistently negative.)

I clicked on the link, which brought me to a document entitled Letter To Rock Waterman.doc. As I read the letter, there was something very familiar about it, and sure enough, I soon realized it had been written by my friend Mark Foree of Snowflake, Arizona.

Of course, Mark was not my friend when he wrote me that letter over a year ago. In the letter Mark vigorously takes me to task for quite a number of things. That letter is a thorough rebuking, and if most of the assumptions Mark made about me were true, I would be the first to admit I deserved every bit of that drubbing.

Mark's impetus for writing me was he felt my blog had unduly influenced his cousin, and he felt she was in danger of apostasy because of that influence. (In case you were wondering, Mark's cousin remains stalwart in the faith to this day.)

At the time he wrote that letter, Mark had posted it on Google Docs so that his cousin could access it, and then forgot all about it. Unbeknownst to Mark, however, that letter eventually made its way into the hands of our friend AW, and AW had not been aware that there is quite a bit more to this story.

So to clear Mark's good name (but mostly because I thought some of you would enjoy seeing someone tell me off but good), I told AW that in a future post I would provide the rest of the correspondence that took place between Mark and I. This seems like a good place to do that, as our correspondence demonstrates how two humble followers of Christ can come together in commonality in spite of other differences we may have. (And there are still some things Mark and I disagree about.) Mark has graciously given me permission to reprint our correspondence below:
From: Mark Foree
Brother Waterman:

I came across your blog "Pure Mormonism" because of my cousin who is impressed by your ideas. My cousin sent me by email one of your blog postings about "When Mormons Take the Name of The Lord in Vain" and I sent a reply which she posted in the comments section of your blog, and I read your reply to mine in which you felt that I was quite angry. I believe that I was responding to a purposefully offensive article and I did not know who the author was. She had sent me your article without your name on it and I wasn't sure that she wasn't the author. This past weekend I discovered your blog by Googling the title of your post. I have now read several others of your articles. You must be retired. You have way too much time on your hands.

Normally I wouldn't be interested enough to respond to blogs and articles like yours. But for several reasons, I think I must say something to you about yours. If we met in person, you'd see that I am just a likable person like I am sure that you are, and we could have some good conversation about whatever topic you like, and even if we didn't see eye to eye, we would probably part as friends. But, when the platform of your opinionating is public, and when I feel to doubt your purposes, I feel I must say something and it will probably be that you think I am a real disagreeable fellow.
But Brother Waterman, your blog is the most pessimistic meandering of wasted time that I have read in a long time. I have to ask. What is the purpose of your blog? There is nothing in your blog that lifts people. There is nothing there that encourages people to improve. There is only discontentment with the church in both content and leadership. What are you trying to accomplish? If your purpose was to disprove the truthfulness of the restoration, I could understand that. If your purpose was to prove it, I would understand that. But Brother Waterman, I have read your blogging and I think the primary purposes of your blog is to make your self sound smart, gain a little attention, and to proselyte Mormon distrust and negativity. I see no other explanation from your collection of negative and complaining postings. What good are you doing? Are you preaching Pure Mormonism? I don't think so.  
Again, I ask, what are your intentions? Are you friend or foe? Should I be impressed with your blog? What should I be? Should I want more information from your ideas so that I come back thirsting for more? Should I be convinced that the gospel as preached in the church is true, or was true, or will be true? Should I love the church except for this part and that part, or those other parts? Or as you suggest, should I go to church and take the sacrament each Sunday, then leave? Should I sit at the feast and eat only the meat and skip the drink, the appetizers, and the desserts?

Since when do Mormons encourage other Mormons by telling them that conference is boring, and the church isn't quite good enough for full attendance? Since when do faithful Mormons complain that the prophet should teach us more new things? Since when are the worst parts of our history the foundation of our history? Are you so blinded by your own antagonism that you can't see the forest for the trees? Where is the beauty of the Gospel of Christ in your blog? I know the subtitle of your blog mentions it, but I read at least ten of your posts top to bottom and I see no hint of it. I know that "Pure Mormonism" is the name of your blog, but where is the optimism that makes people want to get up and serve their fellow man? Where is the HOPE of salvation? Where is the Mormonism?

I am not going to argue point by point as to whether Joseph Smith hated or loved polygamy, or whether the Church Office Building is too corporate. or whether the Church does or doesn't tell us enough about church finances, or whether the church should or shouldn't own an airplane or a business or invest in down town Salt Lake City retail shops. But, I challenge you. I challenge you to put the joy of the gospel into your blog. I challenge you to stop complaining in your blog. Do you really think that if Joseph Smith were alive today, he would be more aligned with your complaining than he would be President Monson's encouragements for us to serve our neighbors? I doubt it seriously. Joseph was too happy a person to let himself be weighed down bemoaning this, and bemoaning that. The whole tone of your blog seems to be that you think you are too good for the church. You place yourself above the rest of us by your apparent belief that we sheep are not thoroughly instructed in the history of the church or the details of church management because if we were we would be like you and spew sour grapes.

Where is the good intent in your blogging? It irks me that many of the people commenting on your blogs are being drawn into your lack of hope by your negative lecturing. My own cousin whose Mother was an outright angel and faithful to the core believes that you are wise. And, I don't care how many trivial or supporting historical quotes you can muster to prove that the church should have done this or should have done that. What I want to know is where are you and where is your shovel when there is work to be done? Where are you when the service projects are going on? How many hours do you spend hoeing weeds in widows yards with the Teachers quorum ? How many hours do you spend preparing lessons and doing your home teaching? That's what I want to know. Your blog makes it seem that you spend so much time on the periphery of the gospel that you aren't enjoying the gospel because you are too busy nit-picking the history and mechanics of the church.

I know that I don't know you. I hope I am wrong and maybe I am being too judgmental myself. Maybe you are a scout master or a bishop. Maybe you volunteer hours each week at the family history library. If so, that's what I want to know about. That is what "Pure Mormonism" should talk about. Maybe you are at the temple each week. Maybe you spend your own money buying treats for the Beehives. Maybe you visit the sick. I really don't know. But judging only from your blog, I highly doubt it.

Have you looked into the eye of an inactive father who got to spend a week with his son at scout camp because the bishop was in tune enough to call him to be assistant 11 year old scout master? Have you seen the beauty in the eyes of a young woman who overcame her fears and bore her testimony to her friends? Have you seen these things and forgotten them? Have you listened to a less than perfect priesthood lesson given by a struggling brother, and then been overcome with the Spirit as he bore his testimony at the end of the lesson? Have you missed what Mormonism is? Time and again in your comments and in your posts, its as though you are waiving a flag that says, "Look at me! I am a little smarter than rest of you, and I am really a lot smarter than President Monson." Maybe I am missing the positive parts of your writing, or the gospel parts of your blogging. Maybe I just didn't read the right post. But, good grief, if you are going to have a title of "Pure Mormonism" then it ought to be found everywhere in the blog!

Mormonism is the best and most hopeful doctrine in the world. There is no other theology, science, or philosophy that even comes close. And, I believe that it is true. Your blog is nothing but the negativity of the world trying to take down the highest aspirations of man.

I am not a Mormon because I do or don't have a testimony of polygamy or any other by-gone practice, or that the church office building runs or doesn't run only by angelic visitations, or that the cattle ranch in Florida is fully owned by this church corporation or that one. I am not a Mormon because I hate war or like war. I am not a Mormon because of any of the ideas expounded upon so thoroughly by your "Pure Mormonism" blog. I am a Mormon because I WANT to be. I am a Mormon because I can see and feel the glory of it. I am a Mormon because of the way I feel when I sit in sacrament meeting, Sunday school class, and elders quorum. I am a Mormon because of the change I see in people when they are baptized. I am a Mormon because of the way I feel baptizing 14 year old boys 20 times for a list of people long dead. I am a Mormon because of the way I felt when I and 14 other 17 year old white boys knelt in a pineapple field in 1978 and thanked God for the revelation allowing black brethren the priesthood. I love the hope of the Gospel that is framed in the Church. I am a Mormon because I believe a young boy who was no scholar, saw angels and translated an ancient book! I am a Mormon because I hope that I can become better than I am. I am a Mormon because I believe that Christ got up from that slab and that he appeared around the world and showed himself to people who fell at his feet and with tears in their eyes kissed his feet. I am a Mormon because of my failings and my sins, because I have hope that through repentance in Christ I will be clean when he comes again. I am a Mormon because of the way I felt when my wife came through the veil when we were married AND sealed in the temple. I am a Mormon because of the tears my wife and I have shed in the celestial room of the temple when waves of relief came over us as worries about our children were lifted if only for a time. I am a Mormon because I have felt the fire of the Spirit when I witnessed 21 young men sing the Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning in the middle of a rain and lightning storm in the middle of the Arizona woods. I am a Mormon because of countless spiritual experiences, and because of the inspiring and hopeful words of ancient prophets. This is Mormonism, and it seems to be missing from your blog.

And, Brother Waterman, I believe that negative blogs like yours do not lead people to feel the way I feel, or hope the way I hope. In your blog, where is the Mormonism?

-Mark Foree, Snowflake, Arizona

From: Rock Waterman

To: Mark

Hi Mark,

Happy to hear from you. I'm afraid I won't be able to address your questions more completely at the moment, as I'm about to walk out the door (service project, believe it or not. I've been lending assistance, both financial and time to a young mother who has been homeless. For now, at least, her young family has found a place in the garage of another family). So I'll have to get back to you sometime later.

The short answer as to why I do what I do is because I'm dismayed at the deluge of people leaving the church today, and I am hoping to help stem that flow. Based on some of the feedback I have been getting, I have seen some success for my efforts. I find this exodus from the the faith both dismaying and unnecessary.

Now, I realize that from the impression you have of my blog so far, you might find the above statement puzzling. Interestingly, I've been invited to be interviewed for a new series of podcasts entitled "A Thoughtful Faith" which features latter-day Saints who can see the current challenges in the church yet remain devoted to the faith. I just finished listening to the first entry, an interview with Greg Prince, who was David O. McKay's biographer.

It occurs to me that if you are sincere in wanting to know what motivates me, that if you will listen to the podcast of Brother Prince, you'll understand me better, for his views are very close to my own and his feelings echo many of mine. It was a great interview. Here it is:

I found it a bit difficult to find the Download button, so if you have trouble, try this link directly to the Quicktime launch:

I actually don't have a lot of time on my hands as you suggest; that's why I only blog about once a month. Most of my time not spent caring for my invalid wife is spent in service to others. That is because for the past five years I have been in the process of repenting for my previous life of half-hearted compassion, which was performed more because I was assigned to those projects rather than from a burning desire within to actually make someone else's life less of a struggle.

My blog is a part of that process of repentance, as I have awakened from the realization that most of my life as a member I have, like so many others, embraced vain traditions that I thought were a part of my religion, but that turned out not to be doctrinal. By sharing the errors I have made with others, I hope to prevent them from diverting from the true path as I once did. It is only by holding to the iron rod that we can be assured we won't wonder off the path which leads to the pure love of Christ.

If you haven't gotten a feel for what I believe is most important in the gospel, which is love and kindness toward others; I guess you just haven't gotten to those posts yet. Keep at it, you'll eventually find something good and decent about me, I hope.

As to your question, where is the pure Mormonism, in this piece I shared how I feel both the Savior and our founding prophet understood it:

Anyway, gotta go; thanks for writing. I am sure you and I could have a friendly, civil conversation one on one as you suggest, and I would like that very much. Understanding is the key. I hope the links I provided will direct you to a better understanding of who I am and what I love about the gospel of Jesus Christ. If, after listening to the Greg Prince interview and looking a bit further on my blog, you would like to talk on the phone, please call me Saturday or Sunday at________. I'm running way low on minutes, so the weekend or after 9 pm my time are the only way I can afford to have a leisurely chat.

Love and Light,


P.S. the idea that I think I'm smarter than anyone else is one that would never occur to me. Anyone who knows me personally can attest that I'm as dumb as a post and I know it.

From: Mark Foree

Thank you for answering. I will try to read more. I listened to the Greg Prince interview.

From: Rock Waterman

To: Mark Foree

Hi Mark,

I told you I would let you know when my interview posted, so I apologize for not getting back to you. You can find links to three separate podcasts I participated in last month on my current blog site. The personal interview is the third one, here. Hopefully you'll find something in there that will redeem me in your eyes.

Love and Light,


From: Mark Foree
Thanks. I have read a little more. I have a suggestion. My opinion of your blog was largely based on your list of the most popular posts which are the ones that I read first, as any new comer to your blog would. If a person reads more of your posts they get a broader view and not as much that it is just a blog for whining as some of the most popular seem to me. I suggest that you remove the "most popular" list from your blog. I think this would have helped me to not have quite as drastic response when I came across your blog. Then a reader can look back at prior posts if they want. I still disagree with some of the points you make and how you present them, but I found more of the Mormonism in your blog than I initially thought was there.

Rock Waterman

To Mark

Thanks for responding, Mark. That list of ten most popular is generated automatically based on the number of hits each post receives. I kind of like it being there, because for one thing, that list includes the pictures accompanying the article. I wish the list would allow more, say twenty pieces, but ten is the limit and I don't know how to program it different or even if it would allow me to.

Nevertheless, it is interesting that most of those top ten seem to be more on the critical side; I had not realized that. If I had my way, I would put "What Do I Mean By "Pure" Mormonism" on that list, because that is, to me, one of the more important ones. That's why I keep it near the top of the "More Favorites" list, which I can better manipulate in order of timeliness and importance.

I'm guessing the top ten are the ones getting the most hits because there is a growing mass of members who embrace the faith, yet find something disconcerting about the way management is behaving these days, acting absent direct revelation, and so on. Friends and family members of these people, knowing of their concerns, send them links to those posts they feel might help them, and that boosts those particular pieces up the list. I believe this awakening is important, and I also am learning that my tiny contribution is having a positive impact among people who normally might have thrown up their hands in frustration and left the church, rather than remain in and being their light.

I recently heard from a reader who had left the church, but is now scheduled to be rebaptized tomorrow. He credits my writings as influencing his decision to return. There is also a rather lengthy comment from someone you can find on "A Thoughtful Faith" following my podcast who says something similar. I receive these encouraging messages frequently, and that's what keeps me going.

So, although this is not all your cup of tea, Mark, there are people who need to hear this kind of message from a fellow believer, and who benefit from it. I like knowing I'm helping a little. Remember, we are not charged with building up the Church, but rather the Kingdom of God, which is separate from the Church.

Love and Light,


From: Mark Foree
I just now read your post "Bad Science, Weird Science, and Strange Mormon Prophecy" and I really enjoyed it. I'll have to read it again when I have more time. I also just went to Amazon and bought the Kindle version of the Daniel Brooks book. I served my mission in Thailand and so am interested in the Buddhist connections with the subjects you discussed and I'll try to learn more when I have time. I admit that I am not as knowledgeable about these ideas as I would like to be. But, I have recently had science and some of these types of things on my mind.

I have a friend, a young man in our Ward who is 16 years old who is our neighbor, who recently "left the church". He truly is a great kid, who is smart and likable. I was his scout master and really wish I could help him. I've tried to open some discussion with him by email, but he only responded once, and I feel not to push him too hard. He should be blessing the sacrament now, but he can't because he is still a teacher. His parents are at their wits end and they are not prepared for the kind of challenge that their son has now presented them with. His parents are good and faithful but not intellectual people. To keep peace in the family the parents have had to "give up" trying to "force" him to come to church. He has stopped attending seminary. As part of their compromise he joins in the family circle for family prayer but that is it.

This young man's challenge isn't pornography or any of the challenges you might think of. His problem isn't that he was using the internet for porn, but for atheism. He was using his iPhone and the family computer to access atheistic websites. He has completely lost whatever testimony he had that there is a God at all. This came out when the bishop was interviewing him to be ordained a priest, he simply told the bishop that he doesn't believe in God.

Before this came out with our friend, I had recently enjoyed reading John A Widtsoe's book, "Joseph Smith as Scientist". And, I had enjoyed some YouTube presentations about String Theory by physicist Brian Greene some of which were aired on PBS on Nova. Then my bishop asked me to speak in sacrament meeting. Our bishop likes to have a general topic for the month for all the talks and so my talk was on humility. Due to my concerns for this young man and for the other young people in our ward, I used the opportunity to put up a defense of the existence of God. My friend wasn't at church that day, but per his mother's request I did email him a copy and he has implied to me that he will read it.

Another of the young men in our ward recently thanked me for my talk and said that it really helps him put what he learns in school in perspective. Due to some other conversations that I have had with other parents it seems that with the availability of so much information over the internet, we as parents have got to be much more educated to make a defense of our beliefs than was ever required before. I am attaching a copy of my talk. It's not scholarly but it has some logic to it, I think. Anyway, thanks for your post, it has some of the wonder and hope of Mormonism that I love.

[Attached to Mark's email was a pdf copy of his Sacrament Meeting talk, "A Call for Humility: A Defense of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth."]