This post doesn’t really provide answers, instead it raises questions. When I pushed back from Mormonism earlier in life I was stunned by the level of deception I encountered. Yet Mormonism isn’t the only religion where there is deception. I encountered deceit in mainstream evangelicalism at Fairfax Community Church, and see it in Neo-Calvinism in the context of “the elect” and the issue of Michael Servetus. What do you do when you encounter deceit in faith?
“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty, and how few by deceit.”
“Life is the art of being well deceived; and in order that the deception may succeed it must be habitual and uninterrupted.”
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:7-10 NIV
I want to introduce you to Amy Logan. She is a former Mormon who journals and writes about her process of leaving Mormonism. She wrote a blog called Soul Searching Girl, which is temporally down due to a hacking. I’m looking forward to it getting back up, however she has an active Facebook page which you can read here. In my life I almost became a Mormon and I have written about it here and here. I don’t keep up with the Mormon Church like I used to earlier in my life. This post is not designed to be exclusively about Mormonism, yet but I will brush up against it. I watched Amy Logan’s Youtube videos and in the one above she talks about how pissed off she gets over the deception in the Mormon faith. I can relate to that feeling with Mormonism, however I can also relate to that with so many other parts of mainstream Christianity. There is a lot of deception, deceit, dishonesty, that exists in many churches and I want to write about that today.
The Deceit Around Joseph Smith
In the video above Amy Logan talks about the version of Joseph Smith she was fed, and seeing that in Salt Lake City, at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building theater. She talks about how Joseph Smith is portrayed compared to what she knows about him now. I can relate to that experience as well. When I was in the process of converting to Mormonism in college the LDS missionaries portrayed an image of Joseph Smith that was heroic, noble, or an honest and trust worthy man who faced persecution for his faith. I was stunned and struggled with the images I had read about Joseph Smith in outside history works. I really didn’t want them to be true. I read about his polygamy which in all likelihood I would suggest came about as means to justify adultery. I read about how he abused his power in Nauvoo. I then read about the final shootout in Nauvoo which resulted in the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. The LDS missionaries made it seem as if Joseph were an innocent lamb being slaughtered in a shoot out at the Nauvoo jail. The information I read of the shootout in outside history sources gave me a different point of view. And as a result when I think of Joseph Smith today I tend to think of him as a 19th century David Koresh.
Outside of Joseph Smith there is a lot of deceit in Mormonism. There is deceit about church history, blacks, Brigham Young, etc.. it still plays out and that deceit is needed to prop up an organization that is not transparent. I encountered deceit and it stunned because it was so at odds with the warm, and cozy television commercials I had seen. Hands down the Mormon church does the best marketing of any religious organization out there today. Eventually my cognitive dissonance ended over Mormonism. I used to think deceit was the hallmark of Mormonism and one of the reasons why I considered it to be a cult. Only cults deceive, I thought. Cult is a sensitive word, I get it, and its an emotional word as well. I write this and yet I want to be careful because Mormonism is not orthodox Christianity due to a number of its beliefs. However, while I learned that Mormonism is not true, I also learned that they are not the only ones who are deceitful.
Dealing with Deceit in Evangelical Christianity
Many of us here have run into deceit in evangelical Christianity. As I type here I can think of church after church, or ministry after ministry where this is encountered. What stuns me about the deceit in evangelicalism as I have dealt with it is how it came in ways and from people I had not expected. For example I got baptized in Fairfax Community Church (FCC). I researched the heck out of the FCC before getting involved. I thought and believed I had done my homework. Even while doing that I still had an unpleasant experience. I had some dealings with Andy Gingrich, the small group pastor that stunned me. His control, and his efforts to be a mini Joseph Stalin outright surprised me. Yet I wouldn’t imagine that to have been the case, so deceit can be very surprising in some ways. Then there is the issue of Eric Nickle. Fairfax Community had made a sex offender as a Care Director and hid that information from the congregation. The behavior of the church in that situation stunned me and still frustrates me. Fairfax Community taught me that deceit in one area often means that deceit is happening in other areas. The deceit of hiding the situation of Eric Nickle from the congregation is reinforced by the deceit that both Andy Gingrich, and Rod Stafford engaged. Andy used deceit and pressure to get people toe the line and control people. Rod manipulated Nehemiah which I wrote about in this post here and bastardized scripture in the process to justify a church expansion campaign. What disturbs me is that Rod’s corruption must be deep, for him to engage in a $16 million church expansion campaign and have no remorse about how he is using, manipulating, and controlling people. Deceit is needed to control the masses and enforce the will. Deceit can come in kind ways as well, which can also be highly manipulative.
You can encounter deceit in a number of environments in mainstream evangelicalism. I am not a fan of “seeker sensitive” at but those can be highly deceitful as well. People are led to the church in one frame of mind only to discover another issue all together.
Dealing with the Deceit Around Neo-Calvinism and Michael Servetus
Deceit can be found in many forms and faith systems. Deceit is an issue in Neo-Calvinism as well. There are many ways his plays out. In Sovereign Grace they engaged in love bombing which wowed and attracted people who visited. People fall for this thinking they are being loved or cared for. In reality the love bombing has a goal, a goal to attract and get you ensnared in the system. In Neo-Calvinism the end justifies the means. The long term goal of getting a person involved often happens in this context. It also plays off your needs. We all have needs according to Abraham Maslow. We all want to be loved, cared for, engaged, and embraced. This is basic to being human, and love bombing feeds off and plays into that need. In the process the core of this behavior by the Sovereign Grace denomination is deceit is essential to operation.
There are many other examples of deceit in Neo-Calvinism that you do not hear about which I want to draw attention to. One of them deals with what I consider to be one of the core problems in Calvinism. If God has determined who the elect are that means he also has determined who has been predestined to hell. I know regular Calvinists are not into double predestination however I also don’t think that the jump to double predestination is far. I would also think that the regular Calvinist is a believer in double predestination as a by-product of their faith. Of course this also raises another problem that will always exist for the Calvinist. How do they know they are one of the elect? How do they have absolute, concrete proof from God that they are one of the elect. I’m not trying to be difficult I am trying o pose a question. I am open and willing to hear other points of view. But I believe its deceitful to talk about how some are elect all the while not talking about those who are not elect. You can’t have it both ways.
Then there is the issue of Michael Servetus. Due to time constraints I am going to lift several paragraphs out of Wikipedia on Michael Servetus, and his execution.
On 16 February 1553, Michael Servetus while in Vienne, France, was denounced as a heretic by Guillaume de Trie, a rich merchant who had taken refuge in Geneva, and who was a good friend of Calvin, in a letter sent to a cousin, Antoine Arneys, who was living in Lyon. On behalf of the French inquisitor Matthieu Ory, Michael Servetus and Balthasard Arnollet, the printer of Christianismi Restitutio, were questioned, but they denied all charges and were released for lack of evidence. Arneys was asked by Ory to write back to De Trie, demanding proof. On 26 March 1553, the letters sent by Michel to Calvin and some manuscript pages of Christianismi Restitutio were forwarded to Lyon by De Trie. On 4 April 1553 Michael de Villanueva was arrested by Roman Catholic authorities, and imprisoned in Vienne. Servetus escaped from prison three days later. On 17 June, Michel de Villeneuve was convicted of heresy, “thanks to the 17 letters sent by John Calvin, preacher in Geneva” and sentenced to be burned with his books. An effigy and his books were burned in his absence.
Meaning to flee to Italy, Servetus inexplicably stopped in Geneva, where Calvin and his Reformers had denounced him. On 13 August, he attended a sermon by Calvin at Geneva. He was arrested after the service and again imprisoned. All his property was confiscated. Servetus claimed during this judgement he was arrested at an inn at Geneva. French Inquisitors asked that Servetus be extradited to them for execution. Calvin wanted to show himself as firm in defense of Christian orthodoxy as his usual opponents. “He was forced to push the condemnation of Servetus with all the means at his command.” Calvin’s delicate health meant he did not personally appear against Servetus. Nicholas de la Fontaine played the more active role in Servetus’s prosecution and the listing of points that condemned him. Among the possible reasons which prevented Calvin from appearing personally against Servetus there was one which must have seemed of itself sufficient. The laws regulating criminal actions in Geneva required that in certain grave cases the complainant himself should be incarcerated pending the trial. Calvin’s delicate health and his great and constant usefulness in the administration of the state rendered a prolonged absence from the public life of Geneva impracticable. Nevertheless, Calvin is not to be regarded as the author of the prosecution. Nicholas de la Fontaine was a refugee in Geneva and entered the service of Calvin, by whom he was employed as secretary.
At his trial, Servetus was condemned on two counts, for spreading and preaching Nontrinitarianism, specifically, Modalistic Monarchianism, or Sabellianism, and anti-paedobaptism (anti-infant baptism). Of paedobaptism Servetus had said, “It is an invention of the devil, an infernal falsity for the destruction of all Christianity.” In the case the procureur général (chief public prosecutor) added some curious-sounding accusations in the form of inquiries—the most odd-sounding perhaps being, “whether he has married, and if he answers that he has not, he shall be asked why, in consideration of his age, he could refrain so long from marriage.” To this oblique imputation about his sexuality, Servetus replied that rupture (inguinal hernia) had long since made him incapable of that particular sin. Another question was “whether he did not know that his doctrine was pernicious, considering that he favours Jews and Turks, by making excuses for them, and if he has not studied the Koran in order to disprove and controvert the doctrine and religion that the Christian churches hold, together with other profane books, from which people ought to abstain in matters of religion, according to the doctrine of St. Paul.”
Calvin believed Servetus deserved death on account of what he termed as his “execrable blasphemies”. Calvin expressed these sentiments in a letter to Farel, written about a week after Servetus’ arrest, in which he also mentioned an exchange with Servetus. Calvin wrote:
…after he [Servetus] had been recognized, I thought he should be detained. My friend Nicolas summoned him on a capital charge, offering himself as a security according to the lex talionis. On the following day he adduced against him forty written charges. He at first sought to evade them. Accordingly we were summoned. He impudently reviled me, just as if he regarded me as obnoxious to him. I answered him as he deserved… of the man’s effrontery I will say nothing; but such was his madness that he did not hesitate to say that devils possessed divinity; yea, that many gods were in individual devils, inasmuch as a deity had been substantially communicated to those equally with wood and stone. I hope that sentence of death will at least be passed on him; but I desired that the severity of the punishment be mitigated.
As Servetus was not a citizen of Geneva, and legally could at worst be banished, the government, in an attempt to find some plausible excuse to disregard this legal reality, had consulted with other Swiss Reformed cantons (Zürich, Bern, Basel, Schaffhausen.) They universally favored his condemnation and suppression of his doctrine, but without saying how that should be accomplished. Martin Luther had condemned his writing in strong terms. Servetus and Philip Melanchthon had strongly hostile views of each other. The party called the “Libertines“, who were generally opposed to anything and everything John Calvin supported, were in this case strongly in favour of the execution of Servetus at the stake (while Calvin urged that he be beheaded instead). In fact, the council that condemned Servetus was presided over by Perrin (a Libertine) who ultimately on 24 October sentenced Servetus to death by burning for denying the Trinity and infant baptism. Some scholars claim that Calvin and other ministers asked that he be beheaded instead of burnt, knowing that burning at the stake was the only legal recourse. Others argue that Calvin himself ordered Servetus to be burned with green wood so the suffering would be prolonged, and that Servetus was the one who requested a more merciful beheading. This plea was refused and on 27 October, Servetus was burnt alive—atop a pyre of his own books—at the Plateau of Champel at the edge of Geneva. Historians record his last words as: “Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have mercy on me.”
Many have argued that Calvin was not personally responsible for the death of Servetus citing that it was the Geneva Council of 25 who issued the sentence and John Calvin had no civil authority and was not a judge in Geneva. Calvin’s letter to Farel quoted above seems sufficient refutation of this. Calvin argued that those whom the ruling religious authorities determined to be heretics should be punished:
Whoever shall maintain that wrong is done to heretics and blasphemers in punishing them makes himself an accomplice in their crime and guilty as they are. There is no question here of man’s authority; it is God who speaks, and clear it is what law he will have kept in the church, even to the end of the world. Wherefore does he demand of us a so extreme severity, if not to show us that due honor is not paid him, so long as we set not his service above every human consideration, so that we spare not kin, nor blood of any, and forget all humanity when the matter is to combat for His glory.
The Neo-Calvinists today really do not speak or acknowledge the role that John Calvin played in Michael Servetus’ execution. That is indeed deceitful. There should be more discussion, awareness, and admittance of this issues. To not talk about, or dismiss those issues is indeed misleading.
What do you do About Deceit?
So here’s the question I have…what do you do when you deal with deceit in religion? In the examples above I have brushed across Mormonism, mainstream evangelicalism, and Neo-Calvinism. I can identify with what Amy Logan says, when she talks about how pissed off she gets when she knows what the Mormon church is teaching is not true. I felt like that for years…in many ways I still do. In my Facebook feed I see people make comments to older churches that have practiced deception. Fairfax Community Church practiced an incredible amount of deception which in itself is deeply concerning. I see people highlight and endorse organizations like T4G despite CJ Mahaney’s deception and alleged criminal activity. So what do you do about the deception? Can you do anything?
This is hard because in many cases you are dealing with institutional corruption and deception. What complicates it is that many evangelical Christians struggle with discernment which only amplifies the problems of the deceit. The only way I feel that deceit can be dealt with is to deal with it personally, and openly. You can’t necessarily approach a church one on one in private these days. I tried that with Fairfax Community Church when I began to see the problems I was dealing with there. This is a post that really doesn’t have any answers and just highlights the problem instead. Let me just list off a number of questions to ask you to discuss:
- How do you deal with deception in Christianity?
- What are some examples of deception you have encountered?
- How has the deception you dealt with changed your view or way of thinking?
- What do you do if you have a loved one dealing with deception who just can’t see it?
- Can you have deception in atheism like you can in Mormonism or Christianity?
In closing I decided to so something different. Since I referenced the Mormon faith in opening up this article I decided to close with a song from a Mormon pop group. Evangelical Christians are not the only ones who have an industrial complex. The Mormons do as well….from their book store chain, to weddings, even missionary care kits you can send that LDS missionary in Mexico, or elsewhere. The song I am closing with is from a Mormon pop group called Jericho Road. Years ago I watched a Mormon movie called the RM, you can watch the trailer here, and the movie if you so desire here. In the movie they used a song called Lift Me Up. Jericho Road I believe met at Brigham Young University and they are quite popular. Anyhow with all that said, I want to leave you with those thoughts on deceit. Again as always I love you guys!