An Interview with Sandra Tanner Part 1

The following is a transcript of Hank Hanegraaff’s interview with Sandra Tanner, co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry aired on 10/10/2011. Sandra is the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young and a leading expert on the Mormon religion.

HANK HANEGRAAFF: We want to do a special edition of the Bible Answer Man broadcast today as a direct result of Mormonism being increasingly in the news. As well, we have a particular offer that we want to put into your hands. It’s more important now than ever before: Memorable Keys to the M-O-R-M-O-N Mirage flipchart. I say “more important now than ever before” in that it is incumbent upon Christians to understand not only what they believe and why they believe what they believe, as well as who they believe, because virtually every single theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God. But it is important for us to be able to use the deviations of Mormonism as opportunities to share the truth and life and grace and love that only the Jesus of Christianity can bring to the human heart. I’ve asked Sandra Tanner to join me on the broadcast today. The ministry they founded has had a transcendent impact in terms of reaching Mormons with the gospel.

Now today some might say that is a divisive thing to do, because Mormons are already Christians. And that is the topic for today’s discussion: Are Mormons really Christians?

Jerald and Sandra Tanner founded Utah Light House Ministry. It is a Christian nonprofit organization providing humanitarian outreach to the community and printing critical research and documentation on the Mormon Church. A particular note is that Sandra Tanner is not only an authority when it comes to Mormonism, but she is the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church. The Tanners have authored over forty books on the subject of Mormonism; therefore, you will not hear a greater authority on Mormonism anywhere at anytime. I think her voice is desperately needed at this particular juncture in American history, in world history, in Christian history, because we unfortunately are falling for “political correctness,” popularity, and all that goes with it in the Christian church. At stake are the lives of people from a spiritual perspective.

This is about whether you inherit eternal life. This is about what it takes to be reconciled to the One who spoke and the universe leaped into existence, the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb. This is about more than jobs. This is about more than the economy. This is about a kingdom that will never end. So the issues of today’s broadcast are transcendently important. They’re not spoken out of any divisiveness—certainly not out of bigotry—but motivated by love. If you are a believer today, listening to this broadcast, I underscore the reality that you need to know what it is that you have given your life to. This is important in that we now stand in the shadow of the Bible, rather than standing in the pages of the Bible.

Before I bring Sandra Tanner on, I do want to bring your attention to an article in the newspaper this morning, and this has to do with a headline entitled “Romney” who is saying that we have to “Be Civil about Faith.” Here I’m talking about Mitt Romney now running for the Presidency of the United States. Before I read just a portion of this article, let me underscore again that this is not about politics; this is about spirituality. This is about making an eternal decision to reconcile your self to the real Jesus, the real gospel, and therefore we have to know the distinction between that which is false and that which is true. As we make comments on today’s broadcast, remember when people say we’re not to judge, that’s dead wrong. Jesus never taught us not to judge; He taught us not to judge self-righteously or hypocritically. Indeed, Jesus taught us to judge and when we judge, we are to judge by a right standard.

The article says this: “Questions about his faith plagued Romney’s 2008 presidential run, but he had been able to keep them at bay so far this time….That changed when Robert Jeffress, the lead pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas who introduced [Rick] Perry to cultural conservatives, called Mormonism a cult and said Romney is ‘not a Christian’” [1]. That prompted Bill Bennett at the same conference to denounce Jeffress for bigotry against Mormons. Mitt Romney echoed that sentiment, he said, “We should remember that decency and civility are values, too….Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It’s never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind” [2].

In part, I would agree with that. Poisonous language doesn’t advance any cause. But we have to remember that tolerance when it comes to personal relationships is a virtue, but tolerance when it comes to truth is a travesty. The question ultimately is: What is a cult? At the Christian Research Institute, we make a very clear distinction with respect to terminology when we talk about those who are involved in cults, because the moment you say the word cult, the media-driven definition surfaces. Cults can be defined from a sociological perspective. We think of Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown or Waco where people are controlled in virtually every dimension of their lives by a charismatic leader, someone who controls them from a sociological perspective. But when we’re using the term cult today, we are not talking about sociology per se, but theology, which is to say, we’re talking about what essential Christian doctrine teaches and by contrast what Mormonism teaches. So we need to be very careful that we define the word cult.

What did Joseph Smith say? In founding the Mormon Church, he said the existing churches were wrong. Their doctrines were an abomination. He took on essential Christian doctrine head-on. Is it bigotry really to suggest that Mormonism is not Christian? Mormons today are seeking to convert Christians all the time. They’re showing up on their doorsteps trying to convert people from Christianity to Mormonism. There is a difference, the difference is substantial, and no one better to discuss that with than Sandra Tanner who joins me now. Sandra, good to have you on the broadcast.

SANDRA TANNER: Thank you!

HANK: When we talk about Mormonism, you have overtly said that when someone takes Mormonism and makes it sound the same as evangelical Christianity, they’re making a big mistake because the distinction is as big as the distinction between a dog and a cat.

SANDRA: Absolutely! Mormonism uses the verbiage of standard Christianity, but they’ve redefined all the words. And just like, I have a dog, but if I told you, “I have a cat,” and then you saw my dog, you would say, “That’s not a cat.” “Well, I have four legs, I have a tail, I have pointed ears…” You know, so, Mormons can list a lot of similarities, but it does not make them part of the Christian community. Historically, Christianity has always been known for being monotheistic: one God, absolute, eternal, never changing. That’s the Jewish view as well: One God eternally existing. But in the Mormon Church, they’re saying that the god they pray to was once a human on some other world system where some other god was in charge. This man went through a human experience, married, died, was resurrected on this other world, went to heaven, and we don’t know how long it takes, but after millions of years he progressed to becoming a god over his own world. So the god that the Mormon prays to is not the God that Christians are talking about. My God’s eternally existent; their god has not eternally existed as God.

HANK: I think one of the things that we have to get to the bottom line of on this broadcast is what the Mormons teach with respect to revelation, because their doctrine is continuously in a state of flux, because their revelations are ongoing. Therefore they have present day revelations that negate previous revelations. Touch that issue, because from a Christian perspective, we say that the Bible is the repository of redemptive revelation, that it has been demonstrated to be true through history and evidence, that you can build a cumulative case that the Bible is divine as opposed to merely human in origin, whereas the Book of Mormon has been utterly discredited by both anthropology and archeology.

SANDRA: Absolutely! The Book of Mormon just has Joseph Smith to attest to it and his followers. It has no prior history from him. He’s the one who brings forth supposedly a manuscript that he says he got from plates that no one ever saw. So that his new book of scripture relies completely on Joseph Smith’s word, there’s no archeology, no artifacts, nothing to establish this people mentioned in the Book of Mormon ever existed. But that’s not their only book of scripture; that’s the one they take to the public because it sounds the closest to the Bible. But they have two other books of scripture besides the Book of Mormon. They have the Doctrine and Covenants, which is Joseph Smith’s revelations to the Church. And then they have The Pearl of Great Price, which is supposedly the hidden record of Moses and Abraham. These other books of scripture, these three books of scripture, all take precedent over the Bible. So that when a Christian talks to a Mormon and brings up a Bible verse, in a Mormon’s mind the Bible is an unreliable source. They believe it’s been changed and corrupted and their scriptures become paramount. So Mormon doctrine is always defined through Mormon revelation; truth is defined through the president of the church. A Mormon today listens to conference to their church leaders every year and what those leaders say could take precedent over anything that was written before even in their own scriptures. Their prophet is seen as like Moses, who could at any time change any doctrine in the church, and they would accept it because he’s God’s mouthpiece.

HANK: Talking to Sandra Tanner. She is probably, I would say conservatively, the foremost expert on Mormonism alive today. We rely on her research. It’s carefully researched. But we also rely not just on facts that she presents but the method in which she presents those facts, because her passion—her love—is to reach, not repel. This is not about bigotry against Mormons; this is about reaching Mormons trapped in a web of false teaching. When we get back from the break, I want to ask Sandra Tanner direct-on: Is it true that to say Mormonism is a cult from a theological perspective is, somehow or another, bigotry against Mormonism? How should we refer to Mormons? What’s the best way in the battle to reach as opposed to repel? We’ll also talk about Mitt Romney again—not about his politics, but about the significance of possibly having a Mormon in the White House. We’ll be talking about all of that and more as soon as the broadcast resumes right after this break.

Notes:

1. Kasie Hunt and Charles Babington, “Romney: Be Civil about Faith,” Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/10/09/v-print/2676273/romney-be-civil-about-faith.html.

2. Ibid.

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