John Neslon Darby
Calvary Chapel sponsors anti-Latter-day Saint speaker
The Spokesman-Review, July 3, 1999 By Kelly McBride
Spokane _ The largest single church in Spokane is taking on the fastest-growing religion.
Calvary Chapel Spokane is sponsoring a speaker whose entire ministry is dedicated to "exposing the deception" of the [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints].
Bill McKeever, founder of the California-based Mormonism Research Ministry, will preach at three worship services July 10-11. The public is also invited to a three-hour seminar July 11 at Calvary, 511 W. Hastings Road.
Pastors at Calvary said they sought McKeever to counter the media blitz that traditionally coincides with the building of a Mormon Temple, like the one scheduled to open later this summer in the Spokane Valley.
Mormon officials say they're frustrated by the timing of the event, but plan to "turn the other cheek" in response.
"The bottom line is we have seen critics for 170 years, since the church was organized," said Don Rascone, church spokesman. "We don't get into heated discussions with other churches."
Garry Borders, president of the Spokane Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he loves to discuss theology and doctrines of his church, but is disappointed another church would sponsor a forum solely to discredit Mormon beliefs.
"It's unfortunate that it's happening, but it's within their right to do so," he said.
Calvary Chapel boasts the biggest congregation in Spokane, with more than 2,000 people attending worship every weekend.
In the past decade, Mormon membership has jumped 30 percent on Spokane's North Side and 50 percent in Kootenai County.
McKeever will devote most of his time to examining and debunking the Mormon understanding of the nature of God, Jesus and salvation.
He contends his work is a defense of Christianity. In addition to 30 to 40 speaking engagements a year, McKeever is author of two books: "Answering Mormons' Questions" and "Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend."
McKeever said he was raised in a part of California with a large Mormon population. When he converted to Christianity, many of his Mormon friends pressed him to join their faith.
After researching Mormons, McKeever said he felt called by God to share his work.
Calvary Assistant Pastor Duane Wilson said McKeever was asked to come because "he has a heart of love for the Mormons. He understands they are deceived because they don't have an accurate portrait of Jesus Christ."
Founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be the restoration of the true Christian Church after nearly 2,000 years of apostasy.
Mormons believe that after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, Jesus Christ came to the Americas to minister to the people living here.
By combining the story and teachings of Jesus in America as found in the Book of Mormon, with those of Jesus in Palestine as found in the New Testament, Mormons believe they have the complete, accurate portrait of God and his relationship to humanity.
Christians take issue with many Mormon teachings including the doctrine that humans are direct descendents from God, that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are separate, independent beings, and that the Book of Mormon is the Scriptural equivalent of the New Testament.
Still, many Christian denominations maintain cordial relations with the Mormon Church.
In Salt Lake City, Mormon officials attended the recent installation of the Catholic bishop and contributed money to the renovation of the cathedral, said Spokane Catholic Bishop William Skylstad.
Although theological differences -- big and little -- are common among different religious groups, rarely does one group openly challenge the beliefs of another.
Mormons, who number just over 10 million worldwide, seem to be an exception. The church is frequently accused of being a cult, because of its unique practices, ritual dress in temples and strict rules.
"It's downright discrimination," Skylstad said of the attitudes toward Mormons.
Mormons are traditionally very stoic about such criticisms.
When the Chicago Bulls' Dennis Rodman made off-color remarks about Mormons during the 1997 NBA finals against the Utah Jazz, the church had no response.
In excusing the behavior, Bulls coach Phil Jackson made things even worse, saying Rodman "may not even know it's a religious cult, or a sect, or whatever it is."
Still there was no church response.
Last year, Southern Baptists held their annual convention in Salt Lake City with the explicit purpose of converting Mormons. The church welcomed the Baptists to Utah.
Evangelical Christians, like those leading worship services at Cavalry, are particularly unfriendly toward Mormons for several reasons.
Outside observers say the two groups spend a lot of energy proselytizing and often find their converts in each other's congregations.
Mormons and evangelical Christians say their disagreements run deeper than that - and go to their understanding of eternal salvation.
Mormons teach that the highest level of salvation is achieved by those who have worshipped in their temples and followed the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Evangelicals believe salvation is only attained through faith in the Jesus Christ of the Gospels. To that extent, their view of Mormons is no different than that of Jews, Muslims or even some mainline Christians with whom they disagree.
The pastors at Calvary said they hope McKeever will give area Christians the tools to discuss their beliefs with Mormons.
"What kind of friend are you if you don't care about your friend's soul?" asked the Rev. Duane Wilson, assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel. "We are supposed to love one another, but it doesn't mean we have to agree, especially if it has eternal consequences."
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