Mormons and Fear: Introducing One of Our Favorite Fearmongers

In the comments on a recent post here at Mormanity, one of our critics stated that the Mormon concept of accessing the grace of Christ in a covenant relationship that involves seeking to follow Christ and keep His commandments causes us to live a life of fear. It’s a common objection from some Protestants who may see things quite differently than we do, but I think it is based on possible misunderstanding. My semi-serious offering here won’t solve the perpetual gap between widely divergent approaches to interpreting the scriptures, but might at least offer another perspective for those interested in understanding the LDS faith.

For those who have heard that Mormons live in fear, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite Christian
fearmongers, in fact, an early Christian fearmonger whose words rightly caused the great Apostle Peter to feel concerned. Indeed, Peter warned that this particular man wrote
things that confused many people about the Gospel, for his writings contained “some things hard to be
understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do
also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction”
(2 Peter 3:16). So with that caveat,
recognizing that there may be risk in relying too heavily on his
sometimes confusing words, allow me to introduce you to the fearmonger
named Paul.

Here is some of his fearsome preaching in Hebrews 4:

1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it….

9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

other words, “Folks, be afraid, be very afraid, for you can fall and
depart from the promised rest God offers to his people. So don’t slack
off, but labor diligently to enter into that rest, lest you fall.”

was big on fear. In Acts 13:26, he told his audience that “whosoever
among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.” And after his conversion, when he joined up with the Christians in Judea
and neighboring regions, they were soon “walking in the fear of the
Lord” (Acts 9:31). I bet it was his fault.

But plain old fear
was not enough for Paul. He wanted something more dramatic, namely, fear
and trembling
. Wow. Thus, in Phil. 2:12, we have this extreme example of
fear-based emphasis on obedience: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have
always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my
absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Read the words in bold out loud, slowly, and then ask yourself if this man could possibly be a Christian? It was no mistake–he
used that same phrase in Eph. 6:5 and 2 Cor. 7:15. I know, I know, with
all that talk of works, obedience, and fear, he has no more right to be
called Christian than any Mormon does.

Naturally, I recognize such doctrine
is a horrible departure from historic Christianity (here I use the
generally accepted definition of “historic Christianity,” namely,
“that particular branch of Christianity that developed in a portion of
northern Europe about 600 years ago”). But frankly, I still rather like the man.
Guess it’s my life of fear as a Mormon that helps me appreciate Paul’s

So when Paul tells us to cleanse ourselves and seek
“holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1), when he praises those who
respond to his preaching with repentance and fear (2 Cor. 7:11), when he
tells us to submit “in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21), when he encourages
Church leaders to rebuke sinners so “that others also may fear” (1 Tim.
5:20), when he warns that willful sin will bring “a certain fearful
looking” for the judgment of God (Heb. 10:27), and even says that it is a
“fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:27),
I’m willing to take his words with a grain of salt and, frankly, am
still willing to accept him as a fellow Christian, in spite of Peter’s
warning about his words.

Peter, like many authentic early Christians, apparently had his own Mormonesque fear-based issues, as we see in 1 Peter
1:17: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons
judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning
here in fear”. Wow, Peter was also into that whole “fear God and obey
him” Mormon-like thing. In fact, after warning his readers about Paul and the destruction that came upon some who misapplied Paul’s words, he then tells them to “therefore … beware lest ye also, being led away
with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). Beware, be afraid, lest ye fall and face destruction. Yep, Peter was something of a fearmonger himself.

But in the end, I know that both Peter and Paul
also understood the love and grace of God. They both realized that we
can fall from grace and depart from the living God (1 Cor. 10:12), and
that we needed to endure to the end to receive the full blessings of
grace (1 Peter 1:3-10, though Peter sounds way too Mormon there, so, uh, beware). So
telling us to not slack off, to “fear” or respect God, and to have some healthy fear about the grim alternatives
if we depart from Christ, all was actually intended as a kind, loving thing to help us.  I think their heart was in the right place, so I’m willing to give both
of them a pass on this. Hope the rest of you will soften your hearts
and give them a break as well.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

141 thoughts on “Mormons and Fear: Introducing One of Our Favorite Fearmongers

  1. But joking aside, you missed the point of my original criticism. Actually I don't think you did, because you are a smart guy, and I respect the lengths you go to research issues, etc. But I think you conveniently decided to ignore the point I have been trying to make about fear.

    As Pierce and others know, I love Paul. But I don't think Paul is talking about the same kind of fear in the quotes you provided as the kind of fear I am talking about. Paul also talks about another kind of fear, and this is the fear of which I speak, and of which I claim Mormons suffer under.

    In Romans 8:15, Paul says, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons…."

    And in I John 4:18, John says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

    The kind of slavery Paul is talking about is the slavery to the demands of an impossible law. Striving to live what is impossible to live, knowing that your family ties into the eternities is dependent upon your keeping your covenants (covenants to live laws). This creates an atmosphere of crippling fear. You might not realize it, because your general authorities keep telling you to be happy! Why in the world do your religious leaders have to tell you to be happy? Isn't your gospel a happy thing?

    I saw it in my own life as a Mormon, I felt this fear, and I see it in the lives of Mormons I love. Even Eyring said that families can be together, but this is depended upon the choices that each family member makes. Yikes! Is that a veiled threat, Henry?

    Mormons have, by way of very solemn covenant, promised to live a law. They didn't promise to just TRY to do it. Spencer Kimball makes it clear in Miracle of Forgiveness that trying isn't enough. You promised to DO it. You have placed yourself under bondage to a law. Just like the Jews. James says you have to live it perfectly if you are going live it at all, or else you are damned by the law you have accepted.

    I do not know how Mormons can experience hope and rest. I simply don't. Pierce can't even tell me at what point he will receive the promised grace he is looking for! But we do know Moroni has told him that he won't receive any grace until he has denied himself of all ungodliness.

    So, Jeff, I know you have no ill intent, and I am not bothered or hurt by your slightly mocking tone, but I think you should know that you ARE mocking.

    And what you are mocking is this: Jesus Christ died on a cross as a last blood sacrifice so that you do not have to live chasing a carrot on a stick. The cross took the stick and crushed it. And Christ is handing you the carrot right now. He is telling you that the Old Covenant is obsolete. He is your High Priest now. Not some mortal man in a business suit behind a desk.

    The cross is foolishness and a stumblingblock indeed.

  2. Flying fig, every thing before us, orboting kolob, give it a rest already.

    There is a crisis going on in the world, humans flering war, and you critics keep on with the same old thing over and over ad nauseum.
    And any one who claims to have been LDS and can't even relay correct LDS beliefs correctly is very suspect.

    You people just want a fight all the time. No intent of any respectful dialogue, then accuse Jeff of mocking. Yeah right. You critics can sure dish it out but can't take it.

    Why Jeff allows people like this to continually be rude and a host of other negative things too long to list, is puzzling. And Jeff was not mocking, just having a little fun. You critics have a huge chip on your shoulder. It shows because you can't tell mocking, which is what you do, from someone having a little fun to lighten things up.
    How sad to have no sense of humor.

  3. Well, if the crisis is really that bad right now that I can't make a comment on a website, maybe all the Mormon apologists should shut down their websites.

    You want me, Flying Fig, and Orbiting to give it a rest because refugees are flooding into Europe. And when we are silent, what are you, Jeff, and Pierce going to do in the face of this global crisis? Continue to talk about Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon.

    Come on! You know you need us to keep this place exciting.

  4. Do not engage with fools. Fools have no interest in advancing knowledge or resolving anything. Fools pound away at their own preferred version of reality and ignore or disdain anything that contradicts this. Fools enjoy inciting dissension and contention and no amount of reason or appeals to decency will avail against them. Fools should be ignored.

  5. I suppose those of us living as active, believing Mormons are batter judges than outsiders, even those outsiders who claim to have tried and failed to live a Mormon life, of whether or not we live in fear.

    We don't.

    Next question?

  6. Brian, I love coming here and debating doctrine. I do it probably more than is good for me. I do have a life outside of the blog, and I could be spending more time with this other life. But I don't, because I love having debate. And I love Christianity, and I love pulling and stretching doctrines with other people.

    But when someone comes along and, without even trying to deal with my ideas, decides to call me a fool, I realize I indeed would be foolish to continue to waste my time.

  7. Ardis,

    Oh goody, the old "you fell away because you couldn't hack it" argument. Love it. I agree with you. I did fall away because I couldn't hack it. And I had a temple recommend at the time, and according to Mormon rules, I was in every way worthy of it. Having declared myself worthy by putting that piece of paper in my pocket, I had declared myself a liar. It is the one who stands before God in open admission of his guilt that is ushered into Heaven, not the one who says, "I am worthy in every way to enter the House of the Lord."

    God alone is righteous, which is why need is the only one who could live that "unhackable" law. I depend upon his righteousness. So, I praise God that I can't live it. If I continued to try (there's that word again that Kimball said is insufficient) I would end up damned in the end. The law is a schoolmaster. It shuts us all up in guilt, and, ideally, it brings us to Christ.

  8. Well, you could behaviorally hack it, everything, but your personality apparently couldn't. And the the fact that the Book of Mormon must have come from Christ, that it contains his words, overwhelms all your objections, and all the objections you can conceive of in the future.

  9. "Well, you could behaviorally hack it, everything, but your personality apparently couldn't. And the fact that the Book of Mormon must have come from Christ, that it contains his words, overwhelms all your objections, and all the objections you can conceive of in the future."

    I guess God only wants a certain personality-type in the Kingdom of Heaven then. When I was a Mormon, I kept getting an uncomfortable feeling that this was the case.

    It's great that it is working so well for you, Anon 1:14. If the day comes that it no longer works for you, please find this post again, click on my username, and contact me. I'm serious. Judging from the certainty you now have, you are going to need someone to talk to.

  10. How did I get dragged into this? For the record, I don't think (and have never said) that Mormons live in fear. And I couldn't care less about the intra-Christian theological debate that's recently been occupying the blog.

  11. I would hardly say, Jeff, that works, obedience and fear are a horrible departure from historic Christianity since the Reformation. On the contrary, if I read just about any sermons or prayer books or other religious documents, from up to the early 20th century, I'm rather shocked by how grim it all seems, and how much emphasis there is on sin and penitence.

    Things have eased up in recent decades. Maybe we're more enlightened now, or maybe we've backslid terribly. Maybe we need a lot more fear. Or maybe we used to be afraid of the wrong things, and what we need now is better fear. Not all fears are the same. If the good news starts seeming too much like bad news, I think that must be the wrong kind of fear.

    I have no idea how common it is for Mormons to feel burdened by fear, but it seems to be a common report among ex-Mormons. I also have no idea how big a problem member retention really is for the LDS church, but fear seems to be a significant part of whatever problem there is. So if there's a concern for lost sheep, fear might be a good thing to address. I'd be interested in a more detailed Mormon take on fear, because it's been a major Christian issue for two millennia and it's certainly not clear for me yet.

  12. Gregory Prince, David O McKay's biographer, recently was interviewed by Doug Fabrizio of RadioWest. Mr. Prince hobnobs with a lot of General Authorities, so the information is only anecdotally reliable, but he reported that he has been told that 80 to 90% of new converts will not remain in the church. 13% of missionaries are not serving their full mission. And of all missionaries who serve, 50% are no longer going to church within 5 years of returning home.

    Those are about the only numbers you are going to hear, since the church is very reluctant to say anything about these kinds of statistics in an official way. The 15 million members the Church likes to brag about is terribly bloated. There may be 15 million members on the record book, but there are not 15 million members attending and identifying as Mormon. Based upon all the wards I have lived in, the activity rate is between 30 and 40%. I would estimate that there are about 6 million active members.

    Even if 15 million is the right number, it is a drop in the bucket. Tokyo alone has about 38 million citizens. 15 million spread across the globe is nothing. Of course, that number has nothing to do with truth, and if it is true with 300 million it is true with 1, but I do believe the Church should be a little less boastful.

  13. Hi Everingthingbeforeus,

    Some of your numbers ring true. My information is strictly anecdotal as well. 13% of missionaries not finishing seems about right. 50% not attending church within 5 years doesn't ring true with the wards that I have been in. That number seems to be closer to around 10% – 20% (again, personal, local experience). Also, around 30% – 40% activity rate seems about right. That was true on my mission (closer to the 30% mark) and true in my home wards (closer to 40% – 45%).

    But, calling the church boastful about a "drop in the bucket" doesn't make sense. In fact, I think using the term boastful even gives the impression that you have an ax to grind since boast means "talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one's achievements, possessions, or abilities." I don't see that the accusation of the Church boasting is true. When I hear these types of statistics from the Church, they come across to me as being matter of fact. I hear more talks about pride, loving your neighbors, etc then I do about how many Mormons there are so using boastful seems to be not the right word here.

    But, if you wanted to call a church boastful for claiming 1.1 billion members when less than 10% regularly attend then that would make sense, although that is not my stance because I generally don't hear churches in general over emphasize the sizes of their congregations. Even if the Church has an activity rate of 30% – 40% (pretty high for religion in general), stating how many members based off of baptisms is the most accurate way to report it. How else would you report it? I think that the nuances and caveats of members attending is best left to the local level where the people know them best.

    On a personal level, I am more concerned about building the appropriate relationships with my home teaching families so that I can help them in times of their needs. I have two active families and one inactive family. The inactive family has asked me not to come. Guess what? I don't visit them. I'll probably stop by at Christmas time to drop off cookies but that'll be all. No fear and loathing messages from me, no guilt ridden innuendos about Church activity.


  14. Why is someone like me at all interested in a movement with a mere 15 million adherents (or less)? One reason is something Steve has just mentioned in passing — he's doing home teaching with two other families. Mormonism is a demanding faith; the upbeat way to say that, though, is that active Mormons are really active.

    People with the level of religious commitment typical of an active Mormon, in all religions put together, are a rather small fraction of the human population. In this sense Mormonism punches above its weight, so to speak. That's interesting.

    That's also why I'm particularly interested in Mormon fear. The relationship between fear and commitment is important in all religions. On the one hand, I agree with Jeff and many commenters that some kind of fear really has been a big part of most of Christianity. And as a standard for high religious commitment, it's hard to beat crucifixion. On the other hand, we should all know that high commitment driven by fear is a typical feature of the worst kind of cult. That point should be faced squarely, I think, by anyone who feels highly motivated by their religious faith. Fear and high commitment may perhaps not necessarily be bad; but they're certainly not always good.

  15. I would challenge any Mormon to tell me truthfully that they are not afraid of losing a child to sin, and thus not having that child with them for eternity. Tell me honestly, if you are a parent, that you do not fear this.

    Now, you may say that what is the difference between that scenario and the average Christian scenario. Here is the difference:

    As a Mormon, in order to be with your loved ones, you must do the following (all required to receive the temple recommend, without which you cannot enter the temple and receive the necessary ordinances):

    1. Pay 10% of your income annually.
    2. Wear the sacred undergarment at all times as directed.
    3. Abstain completely from coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol.
    4. Maintain no association with groups whose teachings and practices are contrary to the Gospel (whatever that means.)
    5. Attend all your church meetings.
    6. Sustain (support) the General Authorities of the Church and all local leaders.

    Now…that is only an abbreviated list. But that is the requirement to enter into exaltation to live forever in the family unit. If you reject this lifestyle, you may still be saved, but you will not be together with your family.

    As a Christian, I believe with my heart and profess with my mouth that Jesus is the Christ. We argue about the necessity of good works, but you cannot tell me that anything in that list above really has anything to do with basic Christian good works.

    So, again, when your family is under threat of dissolution should you or another family member fail to live up to those requirements, tell me, please, how performing those requirements is done out of love and not fear?

    You are fooling yourselves if you think otherwise.

  16. I thought, surely, based on your title, you were going to do an entry on Julie Rowe.

    I'm so disappointed. I thought I'd find out why, once again, all the information was coming from people other than the prophets, seers and revelators.

  17. Hi Everythingbeforeus,

    You make the list as if it were scandalous. I know that the is scandalous for evangelicals but that is their theology. The above list pales in comparison to what an orthodox Jew observes and certain types of practicing Catholics.

    As a Christian, I believe with my heart and profess with my mouth that Jesus is the Christ. We argue about the necessity of good works, and items in that list above facilitate basic Christian good works. 😉

    Without going into details, my family has dissolved. Some are of age to make their decisions and they have. My 'eternal companion' kicked me to the curb two years ago and now gets a nice alimony check every month. Does this mean I jettison the gospel too? Nope.