Deconstructing Christian chain mails

Andrew Schristianity, Culture, Folklore, inter-faith, Mormon 13 Comments

I know my mother has better things to do at work than to forward generic Christian chain mails to everyone in her address book…my problem is I can’t convince her of that. And so, every day, I receive a treasure trove of faith-promoting Christian stories that make me — a nonbeliever — cringe.

I couldnt resist one of these

I couldn't resist one of these

And while I ranted on my blog about how offensive I found various parts of one recently received email…I realized too that I found a strange comfort in realizing that it was just a generic Christian chain mail. This served to be one of the times when I was deeply thankful that we Mormons are a peculiar people — I realized that some of the ‘pop’ doctrines espoused in this email would be uncharacteristic for an LDS email. So, I wondered…what if we could deconstruct Christian chain mail and come up with LDS orthodox counterpoints?

So, the email, and some points to lead our discussion after the break!

A man from Norfolk , VA called a local radio station to share this on Sept 11th, 2003, TWO YEARS AFTER THE TRAGEDIES OF 9/11/2001. His name was Robert Matthews. These are his words:

A few weeks before Sept. 11th, my wife and I found out we were going to have our first child.. She planned a trip out to California to visit her sister.  On our way to the airport, we prayed that God would grant my wife a safe trip and be with her. Shortly after I said ‘amen,’ we both heard a loud pop and the car shook violently. We had blown out a tire. I replaced the tire as quickly as I could, but we still missed her flight. both very upset, we drove home..

I received a call from my father who was retired NYFD. He asked what my wife’s flight number was, but I explained that we missed the flight.

My father informed me that her flight was the one that crashed into the southern tower. I was too shocked to speak. My father also had more news for me; he was going to help. ‘This is not something I can’t just sit by for; I have to do something.’

I was concerned for his safety, of course, but more because he had never given his life to Christ. After a brief debate, I knew his mind was made up.  Before he got off of the phone, he said, ‘take good care of my grandchild.  Those were the last words I ever heard my father say; he died while helping in the rescue effort.

My joy that my prayer of safety for my wife had been answered quickly became anger. I was angry at God, at my father, and at  myself. I had gone for nearly two years blaming God for taking my father away. My son would never know his grandfather, my father had never accepted Christ, and I never got to say good-bye.

Then something happened. About two months ago, I was sitting at home with my wife and my son, when there was a knock on the  door. I looked at my wife, but I could tell she wasn’t expecting anyone. I opened the door to a couple with a small child.

The man looked at me and asked if my father’s name was Jake Matthews. I told him it was. He quickly grabbed my hand and said, ‘I never got the chance to meet your father, but it is an honor to meet his son.’

He explained to me that his wife had worked in the World Trade Center and had been caught inside after the attack. She was pregnant and had been caught under debris. He then explained that my father had been the one to find his wife and free her.  My eyes welled up with tears as I thought of my father giving his life for people like this. He then said, ‘there is something else you need to know.’

His wife then told me that as my father worked to free her, she talked to him and led him to Christ. I began sobbing at the news.

Now I know that when I get to Heaven, my father will be standing beside Jesus to welcome me, and that this family would be able to thank him themselves .

…This story should help us to realize this: God is always in control.

We may not see the reason behind things, and we may never know this side of heaven, but God is ALWAYS in control.

Please take time to share this amazing story.  You may never know the impact it may have on someone.. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.  His love endures Forever.  Psalm 136:1
May God bless you, and your family,

So, some of my possible points of discussion:

  • What would be official answers about the disturbing implications of predistination in such situations. How does free will play a role, and how would miracles or other intervening acts play out?
  • How would LDS doctrines about baptisms by proxy and the nature of the afterlife play into our concerns about the mortal states of our relatives’ salvations?
  • What does it mean that “God is in control” if it is a different interpretation than this email’s?
  • The line: “God doesn’t call the qualified; God qualifies the called” — how does it mesh with LDS teachings about fore-ordination, or the process of ordination and setting apart?

Comments 13

  1. I think Thomas Kinkade and Greg Olson are less saccharine than this. Wow.

    The problem with this type of scenario is that it reinforces the erroneous idea that there are simple earthly moral correlates, to use Reinhold Niebuhr’s terminology. Niebuhr wrote, “Both kinds of faith were wrong. First, that if we pray to God fervently enough he will establish some special security for us against the security of the other person. Or secondly, the belief that there are simply moral correlates between the vast processes either of nature or of history and human virtue.” It seems to me that emails of this type are a collective cultural cognitive dissonance on the part of evangelical America—it reinforces the belief that the wicked are to be destroyed, but that God has set apart the chosen people from suffering (which is similar to the evangelical view of the Rapture).

    On the contrary, Latter-day Saintism has this in common with Catholicism: we believe that there is a cleansing power in suffering (or, martyrdom). God has not said that the righteous will not suffer; the Book of Mormon makes it abundantly clear that the path of discipleship is the path of suffering. (I am being careful not to equate this with atonement for sin, but to equate it with making our wills one with that of the Father.) Read D&C 121-122, especially.

  2. Darn, I was hoping you would tell me how to get relatives to stop sending this stuff!!

    My problem is the psycho-right-wing stuff my ultra-conservative family sends out.

    So annoying!!

  3. Post

    Re 2:
    Kent, I used to want to get my family to stop sending this stuff, but generally, since I guess I don’t have psycho-right-wing-ultra-conservative friends and family, I just get these awkward theological (but still somewhat benign and feel-good) emails that are good for deconstruction.

    Re 1:
    Neal, great analysis. Especially on the idea that this could be part of evangelical cultural dissonance, while the LDS church takes similarity with Catholicism on this level. That’s interesting though…would Mormon chain letters still have that path of suffering (to make our wills one with that of the Father) in such a way as this one? I mean, I’ve read stories of people who have had personal challenges, for example, not going to their dream school or not taking their dream job so they can follow the promptings of the spirit, but these things generally don’t include suffering to death and there still is a sweet ending to it (oh, and by following the promptings of the spirit, things worked out better than ever! And that dream job I wanted; it was the first to be eliminated in the recession!)

  4. Post

    re 3:

    Jeff, I hadn’t seen your comment (I probably should’ve refreshed again before starting to write my other one).

    Solid post, and it seems to answer one of the things I was hoping would be brought up (what happens to people who die without being “saved”, contrasting this email’s theology with est. Mormon theology) without bringing up baptism by proxy.

  5. I have asked my extended family not to send me these e-mails – or any other mass-distributed e-mails, for that matter. I also have added the classic birth control caveat to use protection – “If you do choose to send them, at least remove the e-mail addresses and don’t just forward them as is.”

    The worst part of these, imo, is the implicit arrogance of God protecting believers and not protecting non-believers. After all, he maketh the rain to fall on the just and the unjust – and all that.

    The worst one is the one that morphed into the country hit song, “The Little Girl”. If you haven’t heard it, it describes a young girl whose parents “never took her to church”. They were stereotypical hippies, drank, did drugs, fought, argued and were generally abusive – ’cause, you know, they weren’t Christian. “As they always do, things just got worse” – until they ended up dead in a murder suicide, while she hid behind the couch.

    She was adopted by a good Christian couple, and the first day at church she saw a picture of Jesus and asked who he was . . . drum roll . . . because she recognized him from when he held her behind the couch as her parents died. *sigh*

    I have no clue how to put a Mormon spin on that one, but it nearly became a #1 hit.

  6. Andrew S. Thanks, Frankly, I am a skeptic when it comes to the “Constant God Intervening Theory.” Certainly I believe He could intervene in many situations, but doesn’t. Some folks believe He intervenes all the time, but can’t quite explain when the interventions don’t seem to go the right way. i.e. the person dies.

    I wish He wold intervene on some of these emails to stop them… 🙂

  7. I got this same email from a family member. It’s popular enough that it’s listed on Snopes – and in case you weren’t sure, it’s not a true story.

    I’ve gotten to the point where I just delete any forwards from this particular person. If it’s not “faith-promoting” evangelical stories, it’s far right-wing propaganda. No thanks.

    I think there is some danger in truly believing that God is always in control. It takes the ball out of our court in a way and I’ve seen friends use this way of thinking as a way to avoid actually thinking about things on their own. If God really is in control of everything, does it really matter what we do?

  8. Post

    Re 8: Chelsea, interestingly enough, I was actually talking to someone who would take your final question further. “If God is in control of everything, does it really matter what we do?” In his idea, since God is in control of everything, what you do is already determined by him. The question, “Does it really matter what we do?” still implies a level of free will that some people think is incompatible with God. Definitely different from what the church teaches.

    Re 6: It could be that these kinds of stories and songs are indicative more of a nondoctrinal Christian culture rather than denominational beliefs…I mean, thinking about your story makes me think of “faith promoting stories” of people who were members of the church, had so much success and happiness, left the church and immediately were drawn into the wrong crowd, becoming addicted to drugs/alcohol/sex/(insert bad things here), but WOW, someone from the church convinced them to go back, and as a result, everything was all better.

    So, one of my questions I didn’t ask, but I think I might want to is…How does LDS culture misrepresent or flat-out go against doctrine to make disturbing rumors and stories like this email?

  9. Andrew –

    My first reaction to your post was to think of stories I often heard when I was young about the Three Nephites showing up to remedy diverse, sometimes mundane difficulties in Utah – at conceivable expense to higher evangelical duties (see Hector Lee, The Three Nephites; The Substance and Significance of the Legend in Folklore. University of New Mexico Publications in Language and Literature, Number Two [Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1949]). This is not a very good response to your most recent question, I admit!

  10. Something wrong on this website. There is a beige strip of printing down the center of the page for the whole length of the article, ending where the comments start. It looks as if it’s supposed to be a sidebar, with the tag words or blog titles, but it’s right on top of what I’m trying to read. Is there any way to fix this? Thanks!

  11. Post

    re 10:

    No, that still fits into the latest question in a way. I guess everything can’t deal with mortal issues.

    re 11:

    Yeah, things have been kinda freaky on site, and I don’t know what to do about it.

  12. I was reminded today as well of Elder Dennis E. Simmons’s 2004 GC talk, “But If Not”, at . It’s a strong refutation of the idea of moral correlates and, I believe, answers Andrew S’s question, “What does it mean that “God is in control” if it is a different interpretation than this email’s?” very well; namely, God is aware of the circumstances in this world—including our own (the fallen sparrow!)—but it in no wise removes our obligation to act morally. Elder Simmons wrote, “What does the Lord expect of us with respect to our challenges? He expects us to do all we can do. He does the rest.”

    Andrew S also wrote (#9): “Someone from the church convinced them to go back, and as a result, everything was all better.” We have a strong culture of keeping up appearances, for the most part, in the Church; as an active member, we of course feel a lot of pressure to idealize ourselves and our families (at the very least, publicly)—a superego for the ages (but not necessarily bad)! Problems may or may not be there, but it’s our own form of that same cognitive dissonance. To really study out its manifestations in the email-forwarding crowd of the Church, you’ll have to start archiving those forwards and analyze them en masse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *