You say tomato, I say Mormon

odd coupleYes, this is the third GetReligion post on coverage of Mormons in two days. But this post has nothing to do with the handsome Mitt Romney. Its purpose is to highlight an absolutely excellent human interest story that deals with a Mormon and an evangelical Christian.

I don’t know if we’ve covered St. Petersburg Times‘ religion reporter Sherri Day before. She used to report on business — and religion, I believe — for The New York Times, and she covers megachurches, religion and pop culture, Pentecostalism, the interfaith movement and the intersection of religion and business. But for this story she looked at a couple that has a very interesting marriage. The whole story is interesting but this introduction gives you a good idea of Day’s abilities:

On Sundays after church, Tom and Libit Jones head to the beach. Together, they scout for seashell treasures: cat’s paws and worms.

Hand in hand, visors slung low, arms wrapped around each other, they stop to smooch as the sun starts its slow slip down.

Their public affection camouflages a deep divide.

Tom, 63, is an evangelical Christian, raised in a Kentucky Southern Baptist church. Libit, 52, is Mormon, raised in a Texas congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Both consider themselves faithful Christians who believe in Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life. Both want the other to convert. But Tom runs Christian Research & Counsel, a ministry designed to educate the public about what he calls “counterfeits of Christianity.”

His work focuses on Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

With a beginning like that, you know the story has to be fantastic. The New Republic published a rather opinionated piece on the couple in November, which is where I first heard their tale. The Joneses have been married for 25 years. For much of that time, they’ve had disagreements on faith — but it’s a long journey and where they started might surprise you. Before they were married, for instance, Libit was excommunicated from the Mormon church.

Day’s story is a very tender and compassionate look on a somewhat odd relationship. Tom helps Libit practice her faith and she does the same with him — even going with him and cooking meals for volunteers at his mission outreach to Mormons. They also agreed not to have children, not to debate doctrinal differences in their faiths and to try to be respectful.

Tom says he will never give up on his wife. He writes her love letters, laced with arguments on following mainline Christianity. They disagree on what it takes to gain eternal life. Tom won’t comment on Libit’s fate, leaving judgment to God. Libit believes Tom will make it to the lowest kingdom of glory.

Until then, on Earth, they remain devoted to each other.

He loves her unselfish spirit. She’s smitten by his kind heart. They play Boggle together, attend art shows and pray before meals together – though they understand that they pray to different Gods.

“I believe it’s my job to love her like the Bible says, like Jesus loved the church, and to me that means complete sacrifice of whatever interests me at the time,” Tom said.

The story ends with a sidebar explaining the differences between what Tom and Libit believe. What did you think of the story? What, if anything, would you liked to have seen addressed that wasn’t?

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  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I’ve had to delete two comments already for not staying on topic.

    We are in no way going to debate the merits of Tom’s religion or Libet’s religion here on this site.

    We would love any discussion of the quality of the story.

    Again, no doctrinal debates — but feel free to engage the topic of this blog: journalism.

  • Chris Bolinger

    The sidebar is thin, but the story is good. I would have liked the author to flesh out the statement that “they understand that they pray to different Gods”.

    Sorry for injecting a political angle but, as I read the story, I was reminded of James Carville and Mary Matalin. What keeps Tom and Libit together, especially given his ministry? Intriguing…

  • Liz B.

    I thought the article was interesting, but the sidebar pretty poor. Kind of leaves you thinking that the differences are pretty abstract (or else related to alcohol/caffeine), and makes you wonder why they care so much. (Doesn’t give any insight as to why these differences might or might not be important.)

  • HiveRadical

    It seems to be one of those “freak show mentality” pieces. In reality there’s not that much difference between their arrangement and the arrangement of an athiest or agnostic with any kind of believer. The only difference here being that it accentuates the seperateness that Traditional Christian elements have long tried to stick to LDS/Mormon belief claims, namely that–since ‘Mormons’ don’t believe in the trinity they don’t ‘really’ believe in the ‘correct’ Christ.

    As far as what should have been addressed might have been such items as their views of biblical edicts (being equally yoked), and others specific to LDS/Mormon doctrine, that tie the obtainment of Eternal Life with being joined to a worthy, and correctly believing, spouse. Another question could be how they view their situation seeing that they both knew each other’s condition going into the marriage. It seems that Paul’s admonition to remain with an nonbeliever was given to a crowed who was wed previous to their conversion, rather than before.

    And since there’s at least one ‘Mormon’ in the couple perhapse you could take a ‘Mr Mike Wallace-liberty’ of asking about any potential pre-marital relations they may or may not have had.

  • K Wood

    Thanks for the heads-up on this intriguing couple!

    The Jones’ decision to not have children, and the effects of that decision relative to their respective beliefs, needs more detail.

    I thought one of the primary roles of an LDS wife was to have as many children as possible (someone more familiar with the doctrines should please correct me if I am wrong) because this is how “spirit babies” conceived in heaven receive their mortal bodies – and mortal bodies (and moral choices made in a mortal life) are necessary for them to have the opportunity to reach the highest heaven in the afterlife and become “gods” themselves. Therefore, giving birth to more children creates a larger “heavenly family” is one way the woman gains a higher place in the afterlife herself.

    For Libit, choosing to not have children could be compared to a Catholic giving up Confession. How has she reconciled this dilemma between faith and practice? For Tom, did he give up anything comparable? How has this compromise (or lack thereof) affected their relationship? Is this another “off limits” topic?

    I find this “oil and water” couple fascinating, and the article has left me wanting to know more.

  • Eric G.

    I also thought the sidebar was quite thin, and like Chris, I also thought of Carville/Matalin. I would have liked to see a brief comment or two from some outsiders, such as perhaps his pastor or her bishop, but overall I thought the story was done well.

    No criticism intended here of Ms. Day, as to answer all questions anyone would have would take quite a few more inches. But I would have liked to know more about the psychological aspects of the marriage. The problem isn’t just that he sees the LDS religion as false, or even that he evangelizes for his set of beliefs. But his brochures (it’s not clear if he wrote them or not) are filled with half-truths and distortions, and it seems to me that would make it awfully difficult for her to find the respect for him that a marriage needs. I’m not in a position to judge their relationship, but I’d love to be the fly on the wall during the hypothtical marriage counseling session!

  • Eric G.

    A doctrinal point merely to answer the question raised by K Wood:

    Having children is in general considered a good thing, and Mormons in general have larger families than is typical for the culture in which they live. But there’s no divine command to have as many children as possible, nor does having children provide any salvific value in and of itself.

    Although there may be social pressures to have children, the counsel given by the church to couples is to pray about how many children to have and when, and to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In this case, it sounds like the couple has done exactly that. I don’t think that under the circumstances any responsible church leader would tell them they weren’t listening closely enough to what the Holy Spirit had to say.

    To say that for an LDS person to decide not to have children is the same as a Catholic not going to confession is certainly not the case.

  • http://www.draknet.com/proteus Judy Harrow

    Color me confused. They have agreed “not to debate doctrinal differences”, but he writes her “love letters laced with arguments on follwing mainline Christianity.” Well, maybe it’s not considered a debate if only one side’s opinion is expressed.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Friends,

    Please stay on topic. We’re not debating doctrine. We’re debating how the media handle this topic.

    Mollie

  • http://crcmin.org Tom Jones

    Eric G. wrote: “But his brochures (it’s not clear if he wrote them or not) are filled with half-truths and distortions”

    Pardon me, Mollie, but since you allowed Eric G. to critique my material, I’d appreciate knowing what Eric considers a half truth and a distortion of LDS beliefs in the brochures that I have written and which appear on the CRC web site. I promise to correct anything that is not accurately documented— Tom Jones

  • Rathje

    “Libit believes Tom will make it to the lowest kingdom of glory.”

    Sounds like either the reporter misquoted, or Libit has a slightly mixed-up view of the “kingdoms” of heaven in Mormonism.

    The “lowest kingdom” refers to the “Telestial Kingdom.” By all accounts, it’s actually a fairly NICE place, but cut off from the presence of either God the Father or Jesus Christ. It’s pretty-much reserved for theives, murderers, adulterers and such. I imagine even Hitler would qualify. Generous of God isn’t it? Even the mean people get a nice spot in the afterlife. All the “flames of hell” stuff in the scriptures is generally understood by Mormons to refer to the intense regret the wicked will suffer throughout the eternities. No tormenting imps with red-hot pokers in Mormonism.

    What Libit probably had in mind, was the “Terrestrial Kingdom” (it’s easy to get the two confused). This kingdom is cut off from the direct presence of God the Father, but not Jesus Christ. It’s reserved for honorable men and women of the world who, in the end, refuse to accept the Mormon ordinances of salvation. More or less, it squares well with what most other Christians consider “Heaven.” Very nice place.

    But eternal progression and eternal family is only found in the “Celestial Kingdom” in the full presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Only faithful and righteous Mormons who’ve received the temple ordinances go here. This is what we mean by exhaltation. Salvation is given to all, but exhaltation is only found in the highest kingdom – the Celestial.

    This makes it hard for believing Mormons to get seriously involved with “non-believers.” No Mormon ordinances, no eternal family togetherness – a big deal for most Mormons.

    Incidentally, the absolute worst place to end up in the Mormon afterlife isn’t a “kingdom” at all. It’s a place called “Outer Darkness” and it is reserved only for those who had full knowledge of the true Gospel and of God, and then rejected both. It’s a pretty tough standard for most people to meet, since few people can boast that kind of knowledge of the divine. The Biblical Cain is used as the prototype of an Outer Darkness-bound individual. Judas Iscariot is also used as an example, although I think his case is probably iffy.

    Sorry about the Sunday School lesson Mollie, but correcting a reporter’s error is OK, right?

  • http://galtzo.blogspot.com Peter Boling

    I’d appreciate knowing what Eric considers a half truth and a distortion of LDS beliefs in the brochures that I have written and which appear on the CRC web site. I promise to correct anything that is not accurately documented— Tom Jones

    Tom, (I hope this is appropriate since the news article is actually about him. I am merely attempting to answer his inquiry)

    I just read one of the pamphlets on your site (the one about the first vision), and it is clear that it merely skims the surface and casts things in the light you are desirous to portray them. It is not an honest treatment of the topic however.

    For some reason you believe that there is a disconnect between reports of Joseph Smith reporting seeing angels, and then later reporting that it was actually God, the Father, and his son, Jesus Christ.

    This is from wikipedia:
    The English word came from Latin angelus, which came from Greek ἄγγελος, ángelos, meaning “messenger”. The closest Hebrew word for angel is מלאך‎, mal’ach Hebrew word #4397 in Strong’s, also meaning “messenger”.

    Angel means “messenger”, no more, no less. Got and Jesus had brought Joseph Smith a message. In fact it was the very answer to his question of which church was true. In the sense that they carried a message to Joseph, God and Jesus were Angels. The idea that angels can only be servants to God has basis in Zorastrian, Persian, and Sumerian belief systems and was a late adaptation of Hebrew thought. From the same wikipedia article:

    “In early Hebrew thought, God appears and speaks directly to individuals (Gn. 3:8, Ex. 12:1)”

    We all know that the Hebrews strayed from the truth as time went along (which is why they did not recognize the Christ as their Savior), and early Hebrew thought is considered by many to be the most correct.

    Anyways, a real discussion of the topic in your pamphlet would have to be a lot more in depth, and a lot less biased.

    In the pamphlet you also say that it is strange that no contemporary sources mention Joseph’s reporting of this first vision of God and Christ.

    I can imagine that after Joseph told the first vision story of God and Christ appearing to him to a few people including his Methodist pastor, and some other people he respected, and witnessed their reactions (usually quite negative), he may have begun retelling the story without naming the personasges who sopoke to him. Some spiritual experiences are to holy to be shared with those who disbelieve. Joseph may have found that this particular experience was too much for many people, and thus began referring to the messengers as angels rather than disclosing their more well-known identities as it always caused quite a stir.

    Many of the pasotrs of the day were infuriated to think that a mere boy of fourteen would proclaim to have so much more spiritual understanding than they with their theology degrees, that God would visit him with revelations. Preposterous! It must have especially hurt that God’s message was that their life’s work was false, a mere shell of true Christianity. So it is no surprise that they dismissed him as a crazy fool, or worse, a boy taken by evil spirits having visions from the devil. It is also not cusious that given the “Harumpf” with which his vision was recieved, no one bothered mention it in any newspaper. They did not consider it newsworthy. Had Joseph smith been famous or highly educated and repected it may have been in the news. But he was a 14 year old farm boy with a 3rd grade education.

  • http://galtzo.blogspot.com Peter Boling

    Tom,

    That same wikipedia article quoted above also has a good sections on the Common Christian views on angels, and the Latter Day Saint views on angels. Since the word angel has a significantly different meaning to the two groups you shouldn’t use an LDS quote about angels and expect non-LDS Christians to grasp the full meaning. For people to communicate effectively they must understand what they other means. Two people can say the same sentence hand have entirely different meanings for it.

    Now on the story itself,

    It is jounalistically interesting material. I am fascinated by people who can overcome potentially massive sources of contention successfully. If the rest of the world’s people who have differences could just get along like these two aparently do we would all be better off. I think the story has merit for that reason.

    It is possible to love someone that you disagree with! Even Democrats and Republicans can love each other!

  • Hal Duston

    The usual error here:

    At first, Tom showed an interest in Mormonism. He studied with Mormon missionaries for three months. Then, an Episcopal gave him a book that questioned the central tenets of Mormonism.

    An Episcopal what? Priest? Layman? Cat? Episcopal is an adjective.

  • Edwin Tait

    Rathje wrote of the “Terrestrial Kingdom”: :More or less, it squares well with what most other Christians consider “Heaven.” :

    No, that is not true. The traditional Christian concept of heaven centers on the “Beatific Vision”–the direct experience of God, which you say is not part of the Terrestrial Kingdom.

    And Hal, in spite of the grammatical mistake, it’s good to see that Episcopalians can occasionally do something to promote orthodox Christianity!

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Hal,

    Capital E Episcopal is, in fact, a noun. Capital E Episcopalian is an adjective.

    Still not certain whether he was a layman or priest.

  • Rathje

    OK, I’ll concede that.

  • Rathje

    Except that mainline Christianity tends to conflate Christ and God the Father into one amorphous entity, so I’m not sure it makes much difference from that perspective.

  • Eli

    Great post Mollie and such an interesting story. Always good to see folks who agree on neither doctrine nor faith figure out a way to get along as nicely as they seem to.

    Key line seemed to be “He loves her unselfish spirit. She’s smitten by his kind heart.” They obviously seem to be a couple who understand that commitment and functioning as a team are essential to making things work. But I also think it’s clear that they’ve learned to be a couple that have each other’s backs and that they belong in the proverbial foxhole together.

    As far as how it might’ve been better, while I think it’s a great article, I also have to agree with some of the posts above that it would have been v. interesting to see more of where they agree and disagree in the sidebar….

  • Eric G.

    I’d appreciate knowing what Eric considers a half truth and a distortion of LDS beliefs in the brochures that I have written and which appear on the CRC web site. I promise to correct anything that is not accurately documented— Tom Jones

    Rather than get too far off the purpose of this blog, I have responded here.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    Wow! That story is heart breaking. I wish the reporter had fleshed out the he believes/she believes part.

  • Beth

    Pace Mollie up there, Hal’s right: capital E Episcopal is very definitely an adjective and capital E Episcopalian is very definitely a noun. Most Episcopalians know all too well (thanks to the regular errors of the media when talking about Episcopal churches, Episcopal seminaries, Episcopal clergy, and individual Episcopalians of all stripes) that the standard usage is confusing and counterintuitive, but them’s the facts.

    cf http://www.religionstylebook.org/styleE.php
    “Episcopalian: A member of the Episcopal Church. Episcopalian is a noun and Episcopal is an adjective. It is improper to refer to the church as the Episcopalian Church or to refer to one of its members as an Episcopal.”

  • Eli

    MattK, Why was the story heartbreaking? Sounding like a pretty happy ending to me…

    Until then, on Earth, they remain devoted to each other.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    And I have yet to see a sign announcing that “The
    Episcopalian Church Welcomes You”.
    The only place “Episcopal” is a noun is in a fantasy
    novel by Fletcher Pratt, where a fictional established
    church in a fictional country is ruled by “seven Episcopals”,
    engaged in rooting out heretical “diaconals”.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Rathje: My experience of self-styled-mainline Christianity
    is full of prayers asking “God” to listen to us “for
    the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ”. This does not sound in
    the least like “conflation” to me. And it is one of the things
    which drove me away from the self-styled-mainline to a
    place where I do have to constantly resort to “mental
    reservation” during worship.


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