A Southern Baptist Witch Doctor, Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, recently made some waves by stating that Christians shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney because he's a member of a cult. (Romney is a member of the LDS church. Also known as the Mormon church.)
The Robert Jeffress publicity stunt reminded me of something that I did about 25 years ago.
This is an unlikely story, so I'm going to copy my friend Henry Farrish when I throw it on Facebook.
Henry can't vouch for the buildup, but he can verify the aftermath. And the aftermath was pure, undiluted greatness.
I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, in January of 1984 to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The training didn’t take.
I dropped out of seminary because of a crisis of faith, because my heart wasn’t in it, because of The White Elephant Saloon in the Fort Worth Stockyards, and because of the discovery that God just might not have plans to torture Jews and Muslims for eternity for their lack of belief in things they’d never heard of.
I eventually went to work doing shipping and receiving for Taylors Books, a local retail chain. My last semester, the spring of ’85 (?), I skipped all of my classes except for a couple that I liked and spent most of my time working at Taylors and reading heretical literature in the seminary library.
If you ever want to know more about the Marcionite heresy
, I’m your man.
While I was going through my dark night of the soul, a couple of Mormon missionaries were on a parallel track. Customers and employees of Taylors Books could look out the store windows and see these two depressed Mormon lads on their bicycles, pedaling around the Camp Bowie Boulevard neighborhood in their black slacks, white IBM shirts and black ties, going through a lackluster routine of handing out pamphlets and hardback copies of The Book Of Mormon. I wish those boys had come in the store so we could compare notes.
The pic of a couple of random Mormon missionaries came from here.
They reminded me of those kids who are paid minimum wage to put on a Hot Dog costume and pass out coupons for Big Dawgs House O’ Wieners. Any photo of these missionaries could’ve been captioned “So….it really has come to this”.
These boys decided that spreading the message of the late prophet Joseph Smith was a poor career choice. They eventually gave up on evangelism and quietly dumped two massive cases of “The Book Of Mormon” at the back door of Taylors Books and said “screw it”. Maybe they would’ve felt too guilty about throwing the books into a dumpster, but figured that a bookstore might sell them. We never saw them again, and as far as I know they took their bicycles to I-20 and pedaled back to Salt Lake City.
They left me with about 250 free copies of “The Book Of Mormon – Another Testimony Of Jesus Christ”.
What to do, what to do….
I’ve got to digress for a moment. You won't miss much if you skip the next 7 paragraphs....
Here’s what was going on at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at the time. They were having a Holy War. There was a conservative faction in the Southern Baptist Convention that didn’t believe that women should be allowed to preach, or even teach men (I’m serious). They didn’t believe that women should be leaders in the church or in the home - a concept called the “subordination of women”. (This rule doesn’t apply at the national level, though, as some conservatives found enough wiggle room in their policies to support Sarah Palin, who was godless enough to run for Vice President despite owning a real live vagina.)
The conservatives claimed that every word of the arbitrary collection loosely called “Bible” is without error, they insisted on a literal 6 day creation, and that humans speak multiple languages because some people at Babel once built an offensive tower
, and that gays and lesbians were sinners who chose homosexuality the way that you choose Coke instead of Pepsi.
Very few people stopped to wonder if God didn’t like Muslims, women, Jews, or homosexuals, why oh why did he keep making so many of them?
Up until that point, Southern Baptists had advocated a couple of concepts called “Autonomy Of The Local Church” and “Priesthood Of The Believer”. I don’t have the time, space or inclination to go into those traditions here, since I no longer have a dog in that fight, but those concepts imply that individual churches and individual Christians are free to find their own way, for better or for worse.
Those old libertarian-ish traditions weren’t good enough for many of the grim young strivers of Southwestern Baptist Theological Semitary. Any system that leaves people alone, theologically or politically, is a blatant affront to those who just know what is best for everyone else. How can you pull of a successful Disney boycott or a big war if some churches and some people won’t participate in the hatin’ ??
The conservative faction was opposed by a “liberal Baptist” faction. (Yeah, roll that phrase around in your mouth for a while. There is such a thing!) The liberal Baptists were a smaller, less powerful group which has gone on to become Episcopalian.
Let’s just say that I wasn’t happy there. I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life enmeshed in those debates. I had already blown off half of my classes and was half-auditing the others just to learn more, with no intention of taking any final exams. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and didn’t have an immediate goal.
But someone had given me 250 copies of The Book Of Mormon. I took that as a sign from God, or Jupiter, Zeus, Zool, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (who had not yet been revealed unto us, Bless His Noodly Appendage), that those books should be put to use.
Early one Saturday morning, I put on a generic denim shirt, one that could’ve been issued to someone’s maintenance crew. I got my cases of Joseph Smith’s Epistle To The Polygamists, a couple of shopping bags, and drove to school.
Other than the professorial and administrative offices, Southwestern Semitary classrooms were as open and empty as the tomb of the slain Galilean. I decided to hit the school of Theology first. I went into a classroom and propped a copy of “The Book Of Mormon: Another Testimony Of Jesus Christ”
on the chalkrail of the blackboard. Front and center. It felt good. It looked right. A Hustler centerfold of Hillary Clinton couldn’t have been more offensive in that environment. I took a few steps back to admire my work, “and saw that it was good.”
(Genesis 1:10 )
I went from classroom to classroom, like a Utah Johnny Appleseed, spreading the Mormon Gospel of Sacred Undergarments, Celestial Marriage, Republican Governors, and large families. What were they going to do to me, throw me out of school? Plus, the only way I was going to get caught was if I kept breaking out in loud giggles.
I went to the Preaching Lab, a mini-church sanctuary with a pulpit, piano, and pews. I put a copy in the hymnal rack on the back of each pew, left one on the pulpit, and then propped open one on the piano.
Next, I entered to the chapel. Entering this room with those Joseph Smith’s books was like performing a Muslim ritual Hajj
, approaching the holy Kaaba
, and then whipping out a Pizza Hut Deep Dish Pork Lover’s special
(with extra bacon) just to see how it would go over with the other pilgrims. I decorated the chapel with my heretical books. Thus was The School Of Theology evangelized.
I had to go back to my truck and restock my supply several times. I worked over the School Of Education, the School Of Music, the fitness center, and the childcare facility. No Mormon has ever spread the LDS gospel to a hostile audience the way I spread it that morning, and if there really is a multi-tiered Mormon heaven with Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial kingdoms
, I believe I’m going spend eternity looking down on a lot of other Baptists. I did my work better than Brigham Young, dammit.
(Here's a helpful Mormon chart showing where I shall take my rightful place in the highest circle, The Celestial Kingdom. I'm going to get into the highest Mormon Heaven because of my good works for The Faith.)
Nobody noticed anything until Tuesday morning. (Southwestern Semitary doesn’t have classes on Mondays. This allows part-time preachers with churches in Oklahoma, Louisiana and West Texas to return to The Angel Factory
on Monday instead of driving all Sunday night.)
Tuesday morning, there was a massive uproar all over campus. Outrage. Sturdy, strapping young Baptists discussed marching on Salt Lake City to plant copies of Herschell Hobbs’ landmark tract “The Baptist Faith And Message”
in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir loft. Some professors declared it to be a harmless prank, while others began their classes with a prayer that all Mormons/LDS church members would listen for the Spirit’s voice, find the true path, repent of their errors, and blah blah blah freakin’ blah. (That was the approach taken by Dr. Boyd Hunt
in Systematic Theology, by the way. I know because I was there for it.)
That night, I went to my job at Bassham Food Services
. The Bassham’s night shift was 50% Seminary students working their way through school, and 50% bewildered stoners and neighborhood kids who were very, very tired of being evangelized by Seminary students.
The breakroom conversations were about the cropdusting of the Seminary with copies of “The Book Of Mormon”. Theories of Whodunnit were proposed. Nobody could come up with a satisfactory explanation.
I just sat there grinning, looking like the guy who knows Who Farted.
My friend, co-worker, and roommate Henry Farrish looked at me for a while. Henry and I have known each other since the 4th grade.
Henry whispered “Did you do that?????”
Later on, we went into a corner of the warehouse and laughed and laughed and laughed. Wish you could’ve seen it.
And that is what you do with 250 copies of “The Book Of Mormon”.