Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders (Anna C. Salter, Ph.D.)—[More Than a] Book Review

Anna Salter understands how sexual predators think and operate. She has spent over two decades studying, interviewing, and treating sexual offenders and their victims. Her book, Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders : Who They Are, How They Operate, and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children, is an accessible, powerful work that strikes at the heart of our common misinformation and misunderstandings about sexual offenders, their behaviors, and dangers.

How Big Is the Problem?

Sexual predators. Who are they?

  • They are the man who relentlessly probes for weaknesses he can exploit to convince (or force) post-pubescent teenage girls into having sex with him. He will prey on those who are alone, have family issues, or otherwise make the mistake of trusting him. He volunteers extensively with the youth in his local church where most of his victims attend, and often sings there. Prohibitions against gossip, as well as naivete and shame, leave his crimes hidden for years. He marries, and the church staff presume incorrectly he is then “safe” from engaging in further predatory behavior.
  • They are the church worker who, when the church bus is nearly empty, fondles the vulva of a gradeschool-aged bus rider.
  • They are the homosexual man who has claimed there is nothing wrong with a sexual relationship between an adult male and a teenager. He is recommended by the church staff to direct a youth program at another church.
  • They are the adult-age brother who repeatedly fondles his preteen younger sister.
  • They are the employer who believes it is acceptable and understandable to have an extramarital affair with his older teenaged employees.
  • They are the man who consummates his marriage by, after being told by his bride that she is both exhausted and suffering from a terrible headache, declaring, “I’m getting what I deserve,” and forces her.
  • They are a respected, well-liked, family man who has been sexually abusing a neighbor for years. When the neighbor moves away, he finds a new victim—his granddaughter. In this rare case, the church he attended acted completely appropriately, working with law enforcement authorities to ensure the offender’s arrest, interviewing possible victims, and making the problem known to the congregation. (None of his offenses occurred in relation to any church activities or at the church itself.)
  • They are a man no one—not even his wife, houseguests, or closest friends—suspects of sexually abusing and raping at least one boy over many years. He chooses his victims carefully: Those already suffering from abuse at home are not likely to be acknowledged or believed, whereas those from stronger families, despite ease of access, would present too high a risk. Church work guarantees access to the former. None of those around him know he had long ago beaten one rap in California. During a later trial he will not testify, but does not realize the statements made to friends are damning when statement analysis techniques are applied.

I have not taken any of the descriptions above from Anna Salter’s excellent book; rather, I have personally known every single one of the offenders I have described. I know some—but far from all—of their victims. From my own interactions with the victims of sexual predators, I am all too aware of the destruction their abuse causes, and the years of pain the victims suffer. A few victims eventually find deliverance in one way or another. Some, rarely, will have loved ones who patiently work to rebuild what others have destroyed. Some victims seem irreparably harmed—especially those who are abused at a young age—suffering severe psychological damage that persists decades beyond the abuse.

I have intentionally omitted the many victim stories of which I am aware, and described only the predators I personally knew. I am not that old. Most of my social contacts occur within the two churches I have attended in the past 30 years. Nevertheless, I can quickly call to mind the identities of eight such abusers (and at least five more that I have known but have sparser details about). Either my life is particularly prone to intersect with sexual abusers, or the problem is far more prevalent than most people would admit. It would seem that the latter conclusion is the correct one. (Many sexual predators like to target Christians and churches, because claiming to be a fellow Christian quickly helps establish unmerited trust. However, just because most of the abusers I listed were known from a church context, one should not assume churches harbor a greater number of sexual predators than would be represented in the general population. One exception to this would be the Catholic priesthood, where the required absence of adult romantic interests; an immense amount of respect and trust in the position; easy access to children; and the Catholic Church’s consistent cover-up, rather than removal, of abusers all worked together to create an ideal environment for pedophiles.)

Sexual abuse is not new. Sexual predators are not new. Hundreds of years before Christ, God provided in the Mosaic Law legal protection for women against rape, clearly attesting to the fact that such offenses span centuries and cultures. Research as early as 1929 “documented rates of sexual abuse of female children ranging from 24 to 37 percent” (p. 11). “[R]ates of child sexual abuse are extraordinarily high.”

What’s even worse is that offenders, even repeat offenders of the most egregious type, keep getting away with it:

In treating victims since 1978, I have heard the stories over and over of offenders who were never caught. A young woman tells me that as a young teen, she and a friend were raped repeatedly by a friend of their parents. It went on for years. He would rape the girls in front of each other and threatened the lives of both of them if they told. They didn’t. They were both afraid of him and convinced they wouldn’t be believed anyway, given his high standing in the community and his friendship with their parents. There is a song she still hates, she tells me, because he used to sing it as he undressed them.

Her friend committed suicide as a young adult. My client has been plagued with low self-esteem, ongoing nightmares, and depression. She has always lived a walled-off existence, keeping others at emotional arms’ length.

And what happened to him, I ask? “Him?” she says, perplexed at the question. “Nothing. He’s still moderator of the town meetings.” There … was a predator who was bold enough to rape children in front of each other. He was implicated in the suicide of one, had damaged the life of another, and more than a decade later was standing up in front of his peers cracking jokes. And, no doubt, still singing his song. (p. 13)

Of the eight predators that I have personally known and described above, only three have faced criminal charges, and even that represents an uncharacteristically high percentage. “There are a lot of sexual offenses out there, and the people who commit them don’t get caught very often. When an offender is caught and has a thorough evaluation with a polygraph backup, he will reveal dozens, sometimes hundreds, of offenses for which he was never apprehended.” (pp. 12–13)

Dr. Salter’s book is not simplistic or light handed, and even avoids being alarmist. She approaches the subject with a rationality and thoroughness that is scarcely seen, and conveys a strong empathy toward the victims she describes. She also is not afraid to sacrifice psychology’s sacred cows in the course of defining the problem:

In the past one hundred years, psychology has twisted itself into pretzels developing theories to answer [the question of why people molest children]. Few of these theories have any research at all behind them, and many of them are little more than excuses and rationalizations for child molestation. I am not talking now about Freud’s failure to accept the victim accounts given by his patients and his turning them into “Oedipal fantasies” to avoid ostracism by his peers. That has been too well documented to deserved further comment. Nor am I talking about cases where memory of abuse was lost and then recovered, although there is considerable evidence that this can occur.

What is actually more perplexing in the history of psychology is the attitude toward cases in which it was known and acknowledged that the abuse took place. In the early part of the century, psychoanalytic writers maintained steadfastly that sexual abuse was the fault of the child, not the adult … (p. 51)

Dangerous Misinformation and Knowledge Gaps

There are two major knowledge gaps—or perhaps broad categories of misinformation—in the general population, and even in the criminal justice system population: How skilled sexual predators are in deception; and how harmful sexual abuse is toward those who are abused.

There are other knowledge problems as well. Some of these, such as the idea that pedophilia is not immoral, merely illegal, are perpetrated by those who actively work to legalize pedophilia. Others, such as the concept that all recovered memory is incorrect, seem to take on lives of their own in the popular media and culture.

Masters of Deception

One of the things that is so puzzling, given the vast number of child sexual abuse incidents per year, is why perpetrators continue to get away with it. Even worse, why are people so willing to “forgive and forget” the actions of known offenders, blissfully ignorant of the virtual guarantee of reoffense in the long term?

The biggest reason is simply that children who are sexually abused rarely tell anyone what has happened, even when the results of the abuse are devastating. Forty percent of children who are infected with sexually transmitted diseases will deny any sexual contact.

But not all children tell in the first place. For reasons as varied as fear of the offender, shame at their helplessness, love and protection of a parent, or even—if the offender is clever enough to stroke their genitals—shame of their own sexual arousal during the sex acts—they don’t tell.

Also, they often think their silence affects only them. (p. 14)

Unfortunately, often, even revealing the abuse does not protect a child from from further abuse or protect other children from abuse by the same perpetrator (Salter, p. 14).

Another reason is that social workers and psychologists are ignorant about what to look for. They will perform an “interactional assessment,” and will watch the victims interact with their abusers. If they do not observe any fear, especially on the part of a child, or do observe what they believe is appropriate behavior on the part of the accused abuser, they conclude that the person must be innocent. Dr. Salter explains, however:

Of course, there is no research and no good theory to support this approach. I stood in a conference once when someone was discussing this type of assessment and noted the lack of research to support it. I mentioned that sex offenders are notorious for bonding with a child and using that relationship to manipulate the child into having sex with them. I stated that, in addition, a child might be afraid of the man for entirely different reasons. Perhaps he beat her mother but never laid a hand on her. What justification did the presenters have for believing that one could tell from the interaction between child and alleged perpetrator whether the abuse had occurred or not? (p. 16)

Dr. Salter explores the various techniques of deception used by sexual predators, as well as people’s inability to accurately detect deception. Surprisingly, almost no-one is good at detecting deception. Not surprisingly, almost everyone thinks that he or she is better at detecting falsehood than reality, with disastrous results. Modern tools such as statement analysis and polygraphs (when performed by a skilled interviewer) are much more accurate.

Then there is simply the double-life. Predators keep up an appearance of kindness and likability. Most of the predators I listed at the top of the article were extremely amiable. Several were extremely popular in their social groups. All of them were able to successfully project an image of fine, upstanding citizens. All of them were (and most still are) trusted by those around them. Nearly all have been praised for their fine Christian testimony.

Likability is such a potent weapon that it protects predators for long periods of time and through almost incomprehensible numbers of victims. Mr. Saylor, an athletic director in an elementary school, operated undisturbed for almost twenty years. He tells me there is almost no limit to the number of molestations that one can get away with. (p. 26)

We expect child molesters to be monsters. It seems to be contrary to human nature to think that people who project “niceness” and normality could harbor such dark secrets. (This happens for other sexual offenders as well. One court-appointed evaluator concluded that an offender could not be a rapist, because he was polite and performed such normal acts of courtesy like holding the door for her.) “But it is a misconception that child molesters are somehow different from the rest of us, outside their proclivities to molest. They can be loyal friends, good employees, and responsible members of the community in other ways” (Salter, p. 47).

[T]hose who see child molesters as monsters seem the quickest—when their neighbor, friend, or family members is accused—to say that it is definitely a false report. After all, child molesters are perverts, creeps, and monsters, and their nice neighbor/minister/father/uncle/friend/priest is not a monster. Ergo, he is not a child molester.

Once this kind of denial locks in, no amount of evidence will change their minds. A cab driver said to a colleague of mine, “Child molestation! I know all about child molestation. My father was accused of child molestation, and the children lied—all twenty-six of them.” (p. 47)

Remember that a sexual offender nearly always has to lead a completely double life. The ability to be dishonest yet convincing is a daily requirement, and practice improves that ability. One of the most terrible lessons I have had to apply in my life is essentially impossible to observe: “Never mistake for truthfulness the ability to lie with impunity.” Sexual offenders have been so convincing that they are able to fool those with the most experience. Dr. Salter notes the case of one offender who earned the trust of a correctional officer and his family to the extent that they allowed him to live with them, even though they had a nine-year-old daughter. He began molesting the daughter, and was sent back to prison for it, but even then they continued to try to visit him in prison. “The only rule for deception in sex offenders I have ever found is this: If it is in the offender’s best interests to lie, and if he can do it and not get caught, he will lie” (Salter, p. 73).

The ability to deceive is underestimated by people who are generally truthful. We do not see what we do not want to see. I have personally seen extreme examples of this. One father (whose wife I knew for years) killed his infant in an alleged accident while giving the child a bath. The same thing happened a few years later. This time he was found guilty of murder and sent to prison. Nevertheless, the man’s wife refuses to believe, against evidence and common sense, that both deaths were not accidental.

There is no cure for sexually abusive behavior. Dr. Salter agrees with the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA): “Although many, if not most, sexual abusers are treatable, there is no known ‘cure.’ Management of sexually abusive behavior is a life-long task for some sexual abusers” (p. 59).

[S]ixty out of one hundred sex offenders would still reoffend after the most effective treatment available today, and that means we are a long way from “curing” pedophilia or rape. Note also these results were for the short run. No one really knows the impact of treatment in the long run.

Another common mistake is the belief that child molesters are always themselves victims. Not all victims are offenders, and most offenders are not victims. (Salter, pp. 72–73) There is a long history in psychology of not holding sex offenders responsible for their behavior.

The behavior was, it seems, the fault of their ‘frigid’ wives or ‘seductive’ child victims. It was a symptom of family dysfunction. We mute the realization of malevolence—which is too threatening to bear—by turning offenders into victims themselves and by describing their behavior as the result of forces beyond their control. (pp. 174–175)

Most sexual offenders, especially those who abuse children, engage in a process known as grooming. According to one offender:

When a person like myself wants to obtain access to a child, you don’t just go up and get the child and sexually molest the child. There’s a process of obtaining the child’s friendship and, in my case, also obtaining the family’s friendship and their trust. When you get their trust, that’s when the child becomes vulnerable and you can molest the child….

As far as the children goes, they’re kind of easy. You befriend them. You take them places. You buy them gifts…. Now in the process of grooming the child, you win his trust and I mean, the child has a look in his eyes—it’s hard to explain—you just have to kind of know the look. You know when you’ve got the kid. You know when that kid trusts you.

In the meantime you’re grooming the family. You portray yourself as a church leader or a music teacher or whatever, whatever it takes to make that family think you’re OK. You show the parents that you’re really interested in that kid. You just trick the family into believing you are the most trustworthy person in the world. Every one of my victims, their families just totally thought that there was nobody better to their kids than me, and they trusted me wholeheartedly with their children…. (p. 42)

“Like Being Bitten by a Rattlesnake”—The Harm of Child Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse has significant long-term consequences. Even children abused at ages younger than two years, when no real memories tend to persist, are affected by the abuse. The major sequelae of sexual abuse include (from http://www.annasalter.com, as well as other sources):

  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Dissociation
  • Sexual problems
  • Traumatic worldview
  • Re-victimization

Of these, the one that seems most counterintuitive is revictimization, yet it is a considerable problem. Why would someone who has been abused allow himself or herself to be abused again? There are many reasons for this, although the mechanism is not well understood. One factor that seems clear is discussed in The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse:

When children are abused, their capacity to say no and set limits is severely damaged. So even if the abuse continued into your adult years, you are still not to blame. There is no magic age where you suddenly become a responsble, cooperative partner in sexual abuse” (Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, pp. 117–118).

Other statistically significant long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse include:

  • Needing psychotropic medication
  • Attempting suicide
  • Being battered as adults
  • Drug addiction/abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Having sexual problems
  • Being afraid of men
  • Having fear of women
  • Reporting out of body experiences
  • Having nightmares
  • Isolation
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Dissociation
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Trouble with temper
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Prostitution

Studying the impact of child sexual abuse, Dr. Salter planned to read all the literature on the sequalae of child sexual abuse:

[B]ut that grandiose plan faded as I read for months on end without being able to tap into all the research. At the end of several months, however, I was convinced of one thing. Child sexual abuse was like getting bitten by a rattlesnake: Some kids recovered completely, and some didn’t, but it wasn’t good for anybody.

Sexual abuse will often haunt the victims for a lifetime. There is hope for those who choose to heal, but for many that choice may never be readily available. Healing can be extremely difficult and painful.

Many survivors inaccurately blame themselves for the abuse, or suffer enormous misplaced guilt in regard to the abuse. This may happen for many reasons. One is that guilt allows the survivor an illusion of power: If the survivor was at fault, he or she had the power to stop the abuse. (The same dynamics are observed in the survivors of violent assaults and other personal crimes.) The alternative is to admit that nothing the survivor could do would have stopped the abuse, and that helplessness seems like something we consciously or subconsciously avoid acknowledging.

In other cases, abusers or others—even caretakers—project their own guilt onto the survivor. Abusers often reinforce the idea that the child wanted the abuse to take place. This is especially true when the suvivor’s experiences automatic sexual arousal in response to the abuse. Others who should support the survivor often knowingly or unknowingly add to this guilt by refusing to acknowledge the abuse took place or failing to place the guilt solely on the abuser.

For some reasons, girls tend to channel their negative emotions inward, often engaging in a variety of self-destructive behaviors. The total impact is severe and frightening, and the lists above do not really do it justice.

“Trust No One”—Mitigating Risk for Our Children

Many child-safety programs focus on the danger of strangers. Although it is true that abduction and abuse by strangers does occur, most abuses are perpetrated by someone who is known to and trusted by the family of the child.

The best protection children can have is their own parents. In one sense, parents need to learn to be far less trusting than they are, and avoid situations and behavior that have no benefit. Would a child molester abuse a child when there were other children or people in the home? Yes. Some will be so bold as to abuse a child with a sleeping spouse in the same bed, and many with the spouse in the next room. Some will do it with the family watching, fondling children while in the process of wrestling with them, carrying them around, or throwing them up in the air. Learn to avoid high-risk situations. Like handling blood or body fluids that might be contaminated with HIV, our though process and actions need to reflect the possable danger in situations we formerly thought nothing about. We cannot guarantee we can protect our children from harm. There are times and places that we cannot control (such as a teacher or principal who takes kids out of the classroom and molests them at the school). “But in the majority of cases of child molestation, a parent has been conned into allowing the offender to spend time with the child. In those cases, we have considerably more of a chance to prevent it” (p. 226).

A friend called me recently. A young man has befriended the family of her son’s best friend. The young man seems particularly taken with the children in the family. In fact, he seems to adore them, and he is over at the house, mostly playing with the children, almost daily. He does not appear to have any adult love interests, male or female. He has never been married, and he does not date. My friend has met him. He seems delightful, a bit immature perhaps, but really a nice guy. Did I think there was any problem with her leaving her own son alone with this man? Would I be concerned?

You bet I would. Would I be rude to him or refuse to go out to dinner with the family if he’s along? Of course not. I have no proof that there is anything wrong with him. But would I quietly make sure my own children were never alone with him? Yes, because I know that he is in a high risk category. I would do it for the same reason that I don’t dive into pools that could hold hidden rocks. It only takes one.

I have since met this man. I like him. There is nothing about the way he talks or acts that suggests he is a child molester—which means nothing and changes nothing. I won’t leave my children alone with him. “Liking” isn’t enough for me to override what my head tells me. He is in a high-risk category, whether I like him or not. (pp. 227–228)

Dr. Salter illustrates the situations that can arise, and the social awkwardness that can arise as a result of being aware of such situations, with this experience from her own life:

I am standing at the gym at a children’s sock hop. The noise is deafening. Two hundred children are running, hopping, sliding, dancing, and whirling, all the while simultaneously shrieking at the top of their lungs. There is such a thing as a perpetual motion machine, and it is called childhood. The yelling children and the blaring rock music make me hunger for the quiet and the solace of my little fireplace and the book I left behind. Because neither of my children has given a backward glance since they headed into the fray, I began to wonder why I’m here. The mother of my daughter’s best friend had invited both of my children to come with her, but I had been reluctant to give them up. I work so much that time with my children is precious.

“This is spending time with your kids?” I think. I feel foolish and out of place. I don’t see anyone I know. I trudge grumpily over to check every twenty minutes or so just to keep track of my kids. It is a neurotic impulse, I think. What could happen in such a public place?

I find my daughter. At age six, she is dancing happily with her best friend and another girl and the other girl’s father, a man I don’t know. I wave and turn away.

Twenty minutes later I look for her again. She is still dancing with the same group. It crosses my mind that this is a little unusual. In a setting like this, her attention span is normally measured in nanoseconds, not in forty-minute blocks. Usually she has to see everybody, explore every corner of the gym. Why is she still there?

Twenty minutes later the same group is still dancing. I am uneasy now; this is simply not her pattern. I walk over and touch her arm and turn her to dance with me. Instantly the man grabs her arm and pulls her back, right out of my hands. I take her arm again, give him a look that would freeze blood, and yell, “I am her mother” over the blaring rock music. He backs off. My daughter and I and her best friend go off to dance together.

After that I keep an eye on her—and him. He ignores his own daughter, but when he thinks I am not looking, he finds mine and her best friend in a long line of kids waiting to go under a limbo pole. He looks around, then picks both of them up and throws them into the air, all the time smiling and laughing and focusing on them intently. I step up, and he slips off.

A few days later I call my daughter’s teacher. I was uncomfortable, I tell her. No other father in the room was hanging around other people’s children in that way. It was inappropriate, and if that man comes to school, I don’t want him alone with my daughter. “Funny you should say that,” she says. “He showed up for a field trip the other day. He spent so much time with another child that I thought he was that child’s parent and sent a note home to the wrong family.”

I go home and tell my nanny. Someone’s going to call, and it won’t be him. Likely it will be the child, perhaps the mom. They’re going to invite my daughter over to play. Just be ready because she isn’t going.

“What do I say?” my nanny asks, panicked. “I don’t know what to say.”

I stare at her incredulously. “Tell them she’s sick,” I say evenly. “Tell them she was abducted by aliens. Tell them she’s pulling the wings off flies or doing quadratic equations. I don’t care what you tell them. But she is never going.”

Within a week, the call comes.

I tell the parents of my daughter’s best friend because she was targeted too. Their daughter doesn’t go either—for a while. But time and social norms wear her parents down. “What could we say?” they ask me. “It was during the day. He wasn’t home. I don’t think he’d do anything during the day with the sitter there, do you?”

Maybe he won’t, I think. Maybe he isn’t even a child molester. Maybe I am wrong about this. But if he is, he will not hesitate to come home early from work, dismiss the sitter, and take a little girl’s trusting face in his hands and tell her he will teach her a new game.

I don’t know what to say to these parents. In their heart of hearts they believe what they want to believe. He is middle-class, wears a suit, goes to work every day, pays his bills, takes his family on vacation, and seems like a nice person. He is a “nice” man in their world, and niceness, they believe—they want badly to believe—is a character trait, not a decision. They are afraid of strangers. I am afraid of him. (pp. 79–80)

Should You Read Predators?

Be aware that the descriptions of sexual abuse in the book may (or perhaps should) evoke strong emotional or physiological responses. At times, the true evil exposed can be heart-wrenching or physically sickening. (I would caution those who have experienced severe sexual abuse.) It is, however, my strong recommendation that Predators be read by every parent, minister, grandparent, educator, church worker, social worker, criminal justice worker, police officer, or doctor.

Parents especially need to understand the scope of the problem, and be well informed about what risks they can easily avoid and what they should watch for in protecting their children. There is a misappropriation of effort in educating children to be aware of “stranger danger” (which is important, nevertheless), and the situational awareness parents must have to adequately perform their job of protecting their children.

For Further Reading

Although much more clinical, I have also found Dr. Salter’s Transforming Trauma: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse to be especially helpful in understanding the long-term affects of childhood sexual abuse.

I am also digesting a number of books on healing from sexual abuse. (See my 2005 book lists.) Healing is painful, but it can and does happen.

I have also enjoyed Dr. Salter’s works of crime fiction about forensic psychology: Shiny Water, Fault Lines, White Lies, and Prison Blues.

When I finish a few more books, I’ll BLOG them as a resource guide, or add them to this entry.

Meeting with 2 Mormon Missionaries

Doug asked me to post this email I sent out about a meeting I had last night with 2 Mormon missionaries:

This is a long post, but worth it if you’re interesting in understanding how Mormon Missionaries operate…

Last night, Jason St. Jean, Rob Merchant, and myself had the opportunity to listen to 2 Mormon missionaries.

Please pray for Elder Haslett and Elder Clark (they wouldn’t give us their first names.)

These “elders” were about 18-20 years old, dressed very nicely, and were quite cordial.

They told us that God created us, loves us, and we are the most important thing to Him, just like our earthly families are the most important things to us.

They told us that in Biblical times God gave prophets to guide His people and the prophets were often rejected. God also gave apostles to teach.

Because God loves us, he sent Jesus, the Son of God, to die for our sins so we can be saved.

This all sounded nice, except that I know that when they say “God” what they mean is a being who was once a man and became God by performing good works. That this God lives today on a planet near the star Kolob with his Mother God wife (one of his many wives).

I also know that when they say Jesus they mean the first created being of the Father and is Satan’s brother. Jesus performed good works and became a god. So can we.

And when they say that Jesus died so that we can be saved, what they mean is that because of Jesus’ death, everyone gets resurrected and has the OPPORTUNITY to become God through good works.

I asked them if they were saved, and they said they don’t know. But through ordinances of the church, they might reach the highest level of heaven.

I asked them what those ordinances were and they said that some things that are necessary for us to do to reach the highest level of heaven are: baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and marriage. They were reluctant to give me those examples and would not give me any more. They said I could know all the answers once I joined their church and was faithful for years.

I asked them if God was always God. They said “yes.” I told them that the Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow said “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” I asked them if they believe that, and they said that if a Mormon prophet said it, they believe it. So I asked them how they can on one hand say that God was always God, but on the other hand say that God
was once a man like us?

At this point they wanted to leave because they said they didn’t think we were “open to learning” and “wasting their time.”

But I explained that if someone questioned me on my beliefs and said “How can you believe the Bible when it says the earth was made in 6 days, but science proves otherwise?” I wouldn’t say, “Oh, you’re not open to learning, so I’m going to leave.” I would never react that way! I’d listen to their question and try to give them an answer.

The Mormons did not want to give answers to any of the questions I asked. They only wanted to go through and tell us what was so. Often when I asked a question, they questioned whether I was “open to the things of God” and willing to “listen and trust the Holy Ghost.”

I asked them when the Book of Mormon was written. They said it was finished about 400 A.D.

I asked them if they knew that it contained word-for-word quotations from the 1611 King James Bible, which didn’t exist for 1,200 years after the BOM was allegedly written.

They told me if I joined their church and was faithful for years then I would understand how that could be.

I told them that the Book of Mormon contains italicized words of the KJV which are words the 1611 KJV translators added for clarification but weren’t in the original language. Yet these italicized words ALSO appear in the Book of Mormon. How then could they claim the BOM was written in 400 AD?

They told me if I joined their church and was faithful for years then I would understand how that could be.

I asked them about Joseph Smith if they believed he was a prophet. They said they did. I asked them how one is supposed to test if a prophet is a true or false prophet. They said you tell by praying about it.

I asked them if they pray about whether or not they should be Muslims, or whether or not they should rob a bank? Of course not! You don’t pray about something that has been revealed in the scriptures.

I told them that God gave us a way to test prophets. It’s in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. I asked them if they’re familiar with that passage. They said no. So I asked them to read Deuteronomy 18:20-22 aloud. They reluctantly did, but they were uncomfortable.

I asked them how they read and understand that passage.

Elder Clark said that the passage seems to be saying that if a prophet prophecies something that didn’t come true, then he’s a false prophet.

Exactly! This is the Biblical test of a prophet.

So I asked them if they were aware of anything that Joseph Smith prophesied that didn’t come true?

They quickly retreated to the standard Mormon line of “Prophets don’t have to be right about everything all the time – only when they are prophesying. So Joseph Smith may have said some things that were wrong, but he never officially prophesied things that were wrong.”

So I asked them how you can tell what is Joseph Smith just talking his opinion, and what is official prophecy. They said if it is in scripture, then it is an official prophecy.

So I asked them to read “Doctrine and Covenants 84:3-5.” This is scripture for a Mormon. It is one of their inspired works. He read it and I asked him what it said. He said that Joseph Smith prophesied in the name of the Lord that a Temple would be built in Missouri in his generation.

I asked them if that happened (which it didn’t!) and they got up and left.

Before they left they had the audacity to go through their prepared memorized “testimony” which goes something like, “I bear you my testimony that I know the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know this because I have asked God in prayer and He has revealed it to me.”

They told us that we were not open to the things of God.

I wanted to ask him about Doctrine and Covenants 87:1-2 where Joseph Smith prophesied that the US Civil war would be spread to all nations, and Doctrine and Covenants 111:2,4-5 where he prophesied that the residents of Salem MA would give Joseph Smith gold when he visited them (even though they didn’t.)

So truth to them was by “praying about it.” I told them the Bible tells us:

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

The Mormon Missionaries are not interested in answering questions or objections. They want to find people who will listen to them and not question their use of words like “God” and “Jesus.” They use Christian words with different meanings with the intention to deceive.

They want to find a woman whose husband just died and is feeling sad so they can say “Our Church can give you purpose and meaning.” They don’t want someone who has questions about false prophesies of Joseph Smith.

I was chatting with my wife about this, and if a group of Orthodox Jews called me and said, “We’re Orthodox Jews and we don’t believe in Jesus. Can you come over so we can hammer you with hard questions?” I’d be like: Bring it on! I’d LOVE that opportunity! But these Mormons want people who have no critical questions and no concerns (even legitimate ones.)

I didn’t expect these Mormons to repent of their idolatry, but perhaps seeds were planted that God can water. I don’t know how they can say they have “prayed about” whether something is true when the Bible contradicts what they teach. These people deceive many many people.

Thank you to everyone for your prayers about the meeting. I believe that Rob, Jason and I faithfully and firmly and lovingly presented the truth to them, and that pleases and glorifies our God. Our success is not measured in their response – only in our faithfulness.

God bless you!

in Christ and for His gospel,

Mark

P.S. I wrote a document outlining Mormon beliefs and what the Bible has to say about them. It’s called Letter to a Mormon: Testing the Claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

This document was written with 2 purposes in mind:

  1. To train Christians in what the Mormons actually believe (but might not tell you)
  2. To have something tangible that you can give to a Mormon as a witnessing tool.

This document contains a gospel message and an overview of doctrines that the LDS church teaches. All of them list quotations from actual LDS sources, citing where these can be found. In addition, each doctrine has what the Bible teaches on the subject. You should print out at least 2 copies to have near your door since the Mormons always come in 2’s. Give this to the Mormons. It contains material that they may not even know about.

You can download it by clicking here.

You can also find notes and other files from a Cult class I am teaching at: http://cults.sohmer.net

Ruth

Thursday night (I realize it’s now officially Friday), I was blessed to attend a New Life Fine Arts musical production of Ruth. Ruth is one of my absolute favorite parts of the Bible (I named a daughter after Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law),* and one of the most deeply moving and touching illustrations of God’s plan of redemption offered to all people.

This musical adaptation (click here for a brief audio sample) provides a detailed, convincing, and highly engrossing presentation. Although there are a few necessary artistic liberties taken in expanding the Biblical story, only one detail seems slightly overdone, and the rest of of it never departs from the plausable.

The story opens with a monologue by the prophet Samuel. The first major scene is in the city of Bethlehem, during the height of a severe famine. The people’s reaction to what they were going through was immediately engrossing, and convinced me this would be more than just a superficial retelling. The characters were self-consistent and varied, the story dealt with the racial tension between Israel and Moab, and the varied attitudes toward strangers in the two lands. I was teary-eyed at least half a dozen times over the course of the evening.

The sets were ingeniously designed, the staging was well choreographed, and to call the music beautiful would be an understatement. See this musical if you have a chance. You will be moved and blessed.

The production has four more shows at the Chevalier Theater in Medford, Ma: one Friday night at 7:30, two on Saturday, and an afternoon show on Sunday.


*I realize that Ruth is, perhaps, the greater of the two main female characters in the story of Ruth, but I have always found the way the name Naomi sounds to be endearing. See the discussion around my daughter Naomi’s name (and middle name) on this post and its comments.

Star Trek Tech Coming to Your Home

For those of us who grew up reading the Star Fleet Technical Manual and the Next Generation Technical Manual, the development of real world technology that works just like on Star Trek is always fascinating. One example of this is cell phones, which, in function and actual physical design, work just like Captain Kirk’s [pardon my language] ST:TOS communicator.

Other than space-warp propulsion, artificial gravity, and transporters, the designers of Star Trek typically try to predict everyday technology that is about 20 years away from real-world current technology. (Although researchers have successfully space-shifted a laser beam using quantum mechanics, and suspect being able to do so with a simple atom may not be far off, which gives us a basis for transporter technology.)

The voice-aware communications system employed on the Enterprise may be in your home’s future.

The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is working on the problem with Social, Mobile, Audio Spaces, a project designed to create shared audio space so you can be in constant communication with people in other homes. Instead of making phone calls, you’ll have an always-on, hands-free connection that picks up your voice wherever you are. It’s jokingly referred to as “the God phone.”

Read the full article here at PC Magazine Online.

Now, if I were able to go into the 23rd century world of Star Trek, I already know how to make myself rich enough to be the envy of every Ferengi. I’d simply patent a nonexploding control console for use on starships …

It’s Officially Christmas Season

It is Tuesday, September 13, 2005, and the Christmas season has officially begun. How do I know this? (Click the photo to enlarge, or just go out to your own mailbox.)

Today I retrieved the mail to find Christmas catalogs from both L. L. Bean and eToys. :: sigh ::

I remember countless years of devouring the Sears Wish Book, whose arrival announced the official commencement of the blessed season of unrestrained Commercialism. Today my own dreams of childhood (I once requested a Lego set costing $50) pale next to $179 pogo sticks promising 6 feet of “air” (no kidding!) and $300+ game systems. (Of course we all know the top item on most lists will be the $399 Xbox 360 model that includes backward conpatibility with the existing Xbox.)

Man with a Backhoe

For anyone who tried to post/read the Wilcox Family BLOG yesterday, we were affected by the power outage in Los Angeles. When I noticed our mail server was down, I started to file a help request, and got to this page:

Urgent Notice: 9/12/2005

Currently there is a Major Power Outage that has affected Los Angeles Area where one of our data center currently reside.

About half of the servers are currently running using the backup generators.

Unfortunately, the backup generators are not able to supply enough power for the other half of the servers.

We are currently working with the Los Angeles power department to getting power back up for your server.

To read more about the power outage… http://kcal9.com/topstories/topstoriesla_story_255162353.html.

If you have any questions regarding this matter, please proceed and open a support ticket or give us a call. Thank you.

Sales/Support

Lost Luggage and the Sovereignty of God

For the record, I intend this topic to be a discussion starter. I don’t have any misgivings about Sovereignty or Election, but I won’t pretend to have all the answers, either. I do not think that many Christians think about God’s sovereignty until it is too late—something happens that embitters them and they throw in the towel. Along similar lines, I also don’t think that many Christians actually want to look Biblically at the topic of election. I have heard of pastors (not my own, thankfully) who—despite its clarity—actually do not even admit that this doctrine is contained within the Bible.

Enough with the disclaimers …

Lost Luggage

When my son John was away with a group from our church on a part-time missions trip to Jamaica, most of them—all but three, actually—had to wait until nearly a week had gone by to receive their luggage. (This is a common problem when traveling to Caribbean destinations. We were advised on a Christmas trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to bring at least three days’ worth of clothing and essentials as carry-on, because the airline would lose our luggage. We did, and they did.)

The mother of one of the few who got their luggage on the missions trip was thrilled that her daughter’s luggage had not been lost, and considered it “an answer to prayer.” But what about everyone who didn’t get their luggage? Was God angry with them, or was it just “one of those things?” I would like to think that most, if not all, parents with children on the trip were actively and earnestly praying for a smooth trip and for the children’s safety (just as Nichelle and I were), and having their luggage would certainly be part of a smooth trip. What prayer was actually answered? (I should have asked more pointedly, but I am learning to have a bit more discretion.)

Let me further complicate this particular matter. As one of the group leaders testified, on the last day of the trip, our group in Jamaica met another group from Merrimack Valley Baptist Church. The group from MVBC had much of their luggage impounded, as the Jamaican customs officials wanted to charge them over a thousand dollars in import duties on the paper, crayons, candy, and other items they were bringing in for a vacation Bible school they were going to operate. Our youth pastor was relieved that, when the luggage was finally picked up, because customs knew why they were there, they were essentially “waved through,” and were not asked to pay any import duties.

However, if God used (or caused) the luggage’s being late to get it through customs without an import duty, does that mean that God caused the other group’s luggage to be impounded simply to reveal to our group that the lost luggage was, ultimately, a blessing? For that matter, we believe in God’s omnipotence; if God wanted the luggage to get through customs without difficulty, His power is certainly efficacious enough to accomplish this.

Prayer and Hurricanes

A similar question might be asked about Hurricane Emily. Was the fact that Emily missed Jamaica while our group was there an answer to prayer? I prayed that the group would be safe, but not that God would move a hurricane. What about all the people in the Yucatan peninsula, where no doubt other equally important missions trips were underway, where Emily made landfall? Is my prayer for the safety of a small group rather than for moving the storm evidence of lack of faith on my part?

The topic of prayer and weather is particularly interesting because Pensacola Christian College sent out the following e-mail to their mailing list seeming to imply that it was an answer to prayer when the college was spared by the previous 2005 hurricane, Dennis:

Sunday, weather reports placed the path of Hurricane Dennis directly into the Pensacola area; but just hours before landfall the Lord weakened Hurricane Dennis’ winds and moved the storm north to make landfall across the Florida Panhandle east of Pensacola. It was great to be on the west side of the storm where the winds are less intense.

During the storm, student summer workers and Summer Music Academy campers were safely sheltered in the PCC Sports Center and Communicative Arts Center—they were back in their own residence hall rooms early Sunday evening with full power and air conditioning! In addition, shelter was provided in the Pensacola Christian Academy building for over 500 staff and their families. As a matter of interest, our campus buildings and shelters are architecturally designed to withstand hurricane force winds, and we are seven miles from the beaches where the damage from waves and storm surge make great news for television but no effect on our facilities.

We thank the friends of Pensacola Christian College who prayed for God’s protection during Hurricane Dennis. Above all else, we thank the Lord for answered prayer.

This letter seems to imply that God weakened and moved the hurricane as a response to the prayers of those at Pensacola. While this may be true, it seems at once both supercilious and overly facile from a doctrinal approach. If they expected God to protect them from the hurricane, why take shelter in special buildings? Is God powerful enough to move a hurricane? Of course. Would He do so in response to prayer? Quite possibly.

Now, before I am dismissed as faithless or minimizing God, allow me to direct your attention to James 5:17: “Elias [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.” There is, indeed a clear Biblical basis for the prayers of one ordinary man affecting the weather. (I would not be so bold as to describe the prophet Elijah as ordinary, but that is the implication in James 5:17.)

I am convinced that most believers have not really stopped to examine their words and doctrines in light of what the Scripture teaches about God’s sovereignty. We (rightly) are content to praise God when good things happen to us, and we certainly don’t curse God when bad things happen to us. The fact is, there are things to be learned from the good and the bad. According to Romans 8:28–29:

28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. 29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

These verses also deal with another important topic that closely relates to sovereignty: predestination (also called election). We’ll get back to that later.

Sovereignty

God is sovereign. He is the greatest in status or authority or power; He is ruler of all Creation; He is master of Heaven and Earth. By His will, the universe was formed. By His will, all things exist. We humans can scarcely grasp the omnipotence of God, as the concept of infinity itself is slippery enough, getting our minds around infinite power is even more difficult.

So, if God is infinitely powerful, what place is there in His universe for the free will of man? Is it merely an illusion? Do we actually have a choice in anything we do? Or is it all foreordained by God, and we are merely puppets acting out some great morality play?

I used to believe that it was just a matter of viewpoint: God did preordain, or predestine, all things and events, but from the human perspective, we have complete free will. The truth, as Scripture teaches it, is a bit more complicated.

Predestination

And that leads to perhaps the most-ignored doctrine of Christianity today: Predestination. Simply put, God has chosen some of us to be His elect. Those who will, by His grace, trust Christ as Savior, be redeemed, and live forever with Him in Heaven.

There are two extremes in this: Hypercalvinism and Arminianism.

Hypercalvinism would teach that nothing we do can influence someone to be saved. Why have missionaries? One church I attended as a child went this route. They changed the “pot luck dinners” into “covered dish suppers,” which might actually be more correct, but one parent of a clearly lost teen wrote that he had resigned himself to the fact that his son would go to Hell for the glory of God.

Whoa! The New Testament never talks about salvation this way. The fact is, we do not know who the elect are. It is our job to keep propagating the Gospel message of salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and keep praying for our lost loved ones, all of our days. The Apostle Paul wrote:

22To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (1 Corinthians 9:22–23)

Arminian theology (see this excellent reference at about.com) is at the opposite end. In it, mankind has complete free will. God would seem to have no more control than making a few suggestions. Clearly, this philosophy is not Scriptural, either. (However, as the about.com article points out, Arminian theology was important for getting people to realize they could make a difference in society: Slaves were not predestined to be slaves; the poor might be helped to another, higher, station; the battle against disease could be fought and won.

In between, these extremes, yet more than merely the middle ground, is Calvinism:

“I have my own opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel if we do not preach justification by faith without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing unchangeable eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross.” (Charles Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1, 1856).

Whose Will Wins?

Just as God is sovereign, He has made His will clear:

4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

If God wants all men to be saved, is there universal atonement, as the Universalists teach? Or, alternatively, are God’s will and omnipotence defeated because not all men will accept His gift of eternal life?

In regard to election, people do not become saved of their own will. The Holy Spirit must draw men to the Lord. C.H. Spurgeon put it quite eloquently:

“We declare on scriptural authority that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained toward Christ.” (Charles Spurgeon, Sermons, Vol. 4, p. 139). (See more of Spurgeon’s quotes on Calvinism.)

A Premature Conclusion

I did not set out to answer all these questions in this one post, but I have had this percolating for a month now, and did not want to procrastinate indefinitely. After reading a friend’s BLOG for a while, I realized that I had fallen into the “intellectual flabbiness of the larger society,” especially where questions of doctrine were concerned, and wanted use by own BLOG to both clarify and proclaim my own faith. This is a beginning. I expect this will generate some excellent discussion, and further expect to revise and expand this particular post over the next few weeks.