Name: J. Edward Decker
Dates: b. 1935
Education: Utah State University (unknown if degree completed)
Religious Denomination: Fundamentalist Christian (specific denominational affiliation unknown)
Position: Founder and President of Saints Alive in Jesus.
Links: Saints Alive in Jesus
N.b., this is not be an exhaustive bibliography. As new materials are located, they will be added to the page.
In the sometimes inhospitable world of countercult apologetics, professional ex-Mormon J. Edward Decker often fares little better in his colleagues' esteem than Dave Hunt, Constance Cumbey, and Bob Larson. Bob and Gretchen Passantino note that Decker "has been criticized repeatedly by other counter-Mormon evangelistic organizations for sensationalistic evangelism methods which are said to offend more Mormons than they attract" (Passantino 1990:79).1
"Decker's name alone is enough to discredit a book," writes Carl Mosser, an evangelical graduate student at Biola University's Talbot School of Theology. "Decker is infamous for the mistakes he makes describing Mormon doctrine, the sensationalist claims he has made about Mormon rituals and leaders, and the generally uncharitable attitude with which he conducts his ministry" (Mosser 1998).
Former CRI researcher Robert Bowman notes similarly that:
Decker's approach has been to portray Mormonism in the worst possible light, rather than in the most accurate light. That is, any accusation or criticism of Mormonism that appears to be useful to pull people out of the LDS church is seized upon by Decker (and not just by him, please note, but by *many* in the evangelical counter-LDS community) and used regardless of the accuracy of the charge. (Bowman 1998)
According to his testimony, Decker always had a yearning in his heart to follow God. During his high school years, he attended an Episcopal Church and acted as the Y.M.C.A. chaplain for some of the high school youth groups in his hometown (Decker 1998). When, as a young man, he went to his minister and confessed this desire to know God's will for his life, he states that "[the] pastor looked me squarely in the eye for a moment, with a very puzzled look, and then quietly but firmly told me to leave his office and not bother him with such nonsense again. With the sting of rejection flashing in my heart, I nodded my agreement and left his office and the faith of my youth" (Decker 1984:3). He became a "cautious agnostic (Decker 1984:3), in van Baalen's words, another of the "unpaid bills of the church." Moving to Logan, Utah, where he briefly attended Utah State University, Decker did worship in a variety of Protestant churches, but "always with a cynical, protective spirit" (Decker 1984:3).
A few years later, Decker was introduced to Mormonism. His wife, a woman he had known in high school, was an inactive Mormon. Through her, in a pattern not uncommon among Mormon men and women,2 Decker was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All of a sudden, he recalls, Mormon missionaries appeared at their door, anxious to talk about God. "When they found out that my wife was an inactive member and we were a lonely couple in a new town, we were suddenly surrounded by an instant family of people who were happy and excited to find us in their midst" (Decker 1984:4; cf. Decker 1990). He joined the Church in 1956. During this time, Decker worked in middle and senior management for such large corporations as Day's Manufacturing, Castle and Cook, IT&T, and IBM (Decker 1998b).
He remained a Mormon for nineteen years. Finally, in 1975, as a result of circumstances surrounding the failure of his first marriage, his subsequent remarriage, and the traumatic birth of his son (Jason Decker was "born without normal outer ears and ear canals" [Decker 1984:7]), Decker left the LDS Church and began the journey towards evangelical Christianity and a professional countercult career.
In his testimony, Decker recalls that it was his son's auditory deformity which led him to question the validity of his Mormon beliefs. Angry at the condition in which Jason had been born, he felt that God was "exercising his wrath upon me for my failures, but he was doing it through this little baby, whose sin was being my son . . . I screamed curses back at God that night! I cursed him until my voice was gone and I slept with clenched fists, exhausted upon the floor" (Decker 1998a).
While Decker was wrestling with the trauma of Jason's birth, "Ann, a Christian girl who worked in my wife's office, had come to the hospital to share the peace of Jesus with Carol. My wife smiled at me and said, ‘Ed, we can praise God in all things. We can praise Him this morning for this precious child.' She handed me a book called Praise Works and said, ‘Read it!'" (Decker 1998a).
This began a journey which took nearly two years to complete. Decker's wife began attending a Christian church and urged Decker to join her. Finally, he did. "The only seats left were in the front row and the usher gently put his hand upon my shoulder and before I knew what hit me, I was staring up at a man who had a Bible in his hand and knew how to use it. When he finally said, ‘Amen', I jumped up only to run into a hundred people who just had to say ‘hello' and ‘Praise the Lord, we are praying for you!'" (Decker 1998a).
Finally, the crisis of faith in Decker's life brought him to a eucharist service at the church his wife had been attending. This was his Aldersgate Street. "I whispered to Carol, ‘What am I supposed to do? It's GENTILE communion. I'm a member of the Holy Melchizedek priesthood! I can't take this communion.' Carol looked at me and asked, ‘Do you love Jesus, Ed?' As I nodded, she said, ‘Then just be quiet for once, and take communion with us!'" Decker continues:
As they blessed the bread, I joined in and quietly ate the bread, but as [I took] the blessed little cups of grape juice, and I lifted it to my lips, the shock of the red juice struck a bolt of lightning through me. For the last twenty years, I had been taking communion with white bread and water! The Blood of Jesus was missing! It was the Blood that brought the forgiveness of sin. It was at Calvary where He paid the price for my sin! No wonder these people had such peace. They had forgiveness of sin. No wonder they were weeping" (Decker 1998a).
Following his conversion, he was excommunicated by the LDS Church in October 1976 (Decker 1998b). Then, in 1978, along with others who had left the Latter-day Saints, he began his exit ministry, Ex-Mormons for Jesus Evangelistic Association, Inc., known colloquially as Saints Alive in Jesus.3 Since that time, he has been an active countercult apologist specialising in both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Masonic Lodge.
Decker came to prominence in 1982 when he and a fellow ex-Mormon, Dick Baer, produced (and appeared in) one of the most influential of all countercult films, The God Makers, "the film that changed the way the world looks at Mormonism."4 Built around a dramatisation of Decker and Baer approaching a law firm in the hopes of bringing a class action suit against the Mormon Church, The God Makers is a series of carefully-edited interviews and narration, all collected around a rather lampoonish cartoon supposedly depicting LDS theology, and alleged re-enactments of Mormon temple rituals.
In The God Makers, the lawsuit was brought for reasons of "fraud," "deliberate misrepresentation," and "causing family break-ups." In addition to the central narrative (i.e., Decker and Baer), five of the other interviewees in the film claim that Mormon bishops counselled them to divorce their spouses. The "lawyers" ask whether it is Decker and Baer's contention that the LDS Church pressures men and women to divorce and re-marry when one spouse either questions Mormon doctrine or apostatises; Baer nods, but the shot cuts away before a definitive answer can be given (Decker 1982).
In an affidavit provided for the Brown's book on Decker and in photocopies of court documents, however, Decker first wife, Phyllis, contends that it was she who filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery and mental cruelty (Brown and Brown 1995:11-23). In her affidavit, Phyllis Decker Danielson alleges that "[during] the first ten years Ed and I were married, we moved twenty-six times [Phyllis also gave birth to five children in those ten years]. We moved a few more times in the remaining three years we were married. Ed had affairs for seven of those years and I was continually advised by the LDS church to forgive him" (Danielson, quoted in Brown and Brown 1995:9). Since Decker neither appeared in divorce court or made answer to the charges on which the divorce was sought, a default judgment was ordered in Phyllis Decker's favour on 29 April 1969 (cf. Brown and Brown 1995:12-5).
Decker and Baer make a number of specific charges in the film; two of these are (a) that an oath of total obedience is sworn by the woman to her husband; and (b) that the Temple ritual ridicules all Christian clergy. LDS apologist Gerald Scharffs, while dealing with Decker and Hunt's book The God Makers (1984, 1994), which is based on the film, answers each of these allegations. "Swearing an oath of total obedience to her husband in the Temple ritual," write Decker and Hunt, "she must be perfect" (1984:57).
Scharffs responds: "This is not true. Temple promises do not require human beings to be perfect, but to strive for perfection as Jesus taught (Matt. 5:48). Actually, both husband and wife pledge to be faithful to each other and live the commandments of the Lord" (1989:97).
Decker and Hunt contend that "hundreds of times each day in secret ceremonies before thousands of Mormon Temple patrons, all Christian ministers are ridiculed and slandered as absolute fools who are hired by Satan to deceive their congregations" (1984:246). In support of this allegation, Decker and Hunt reference What's Going On In There?—The Verbatim Text of the Mormon Temple Rituals annotated and explained by a Former Mormon Temple Worker, written by Chuck Sackett and published by Decker's organisation, Ex-Mormons for Jesus (cf. Decker and Hunt 1984:271 n.7).
To this Scharffs replies: "This description is badly flawed. One minister is portrayed, but not with any indication that he represents all ministers. He is portrayed as a sincere seeker of truth who is misled in his beliefs. When further truths are presented to him, he embraces them" ( 1989:353).
Robert Bowman, himself a Christian apologist as eager as Decker to see people choose to leave the LDS church, remarks that "the ‘Godmakers' video is a classic example of what is wrong with Decker's handling of Mormonism." Bowman continues:
The video is edited in such a way that Mormon authorities are cut off in mid-sentence, in some cases thereby made to appear to be saying something very different from what they meant. The cartoon presents a caricature of Mormon beliefs so distorted that hardly any Mormon will recognize their own beliefs in it . . . Decker and Hunt simply did not present an accurate description of what Mormons have ever believed. (Bowman 1998)
At the time of its release, Karen Bossick, a reporter for The Idaho Statesman (Boise), wrote that "The Godmakers, a 56-minute film produced by a group of former Mormons, has fueled claims of ‘religious pornography,' as well as a wave of threats, harassment and violence in many of the places it has been shown, including Idaho where a fourth of the state's residents are Mormons" (Bossick 1983:5; a photocopy of the article was reprinted in the Saints Alive in Jesus Newsletter).
While there are no statistics to substantiate his claims, in Bossick's article Decker asserts that The God Makers was "being shown more than a thousand times each month, with an average attendance of 2,500 people at each showing, or about 250,000 viewers per month" (Bossick 1983:6). Decker also alleged that, as a result of his work, "he and his members have been shot at, their cars burned, their doorsteps strewn with mutilated animals and their families exposed to obscene phone calls and death threats" (Bossick 1983:7).
That mention of these events, as traumatic as they must surely have been for Decker and his family, never appears again in Saints Alive in Jesus literature is, to say the least, curious. This is especially so since Ed Decker was quite prepared to launch "a defamation of character suit against a television station general manager and a Mormon church official for public comments they made about The Godmakers" (Journal-American 1983). According to the news clip reprinted in the Saints Alive in Jesus Newsletter, the remarks made by the defendants in the suit "‘were harmful to the reputation of the plaintiffs and the movie produced by the plaintiffs'" (Journal-American 1983).5
In the introduction to The Mormon Dilemma, for example (the book version of a "docudrama" of the same named produced by and starring Decker), Ed Decker describes the trauma generated in a community by a screening of The God Makers. "In the very quiet town in California," he writes, although he never names the town, "the worst fears of the Mormon community were realized:"
A local church had sponsored the showing of the film The God Makers. There were newspaper and radio ads promoting the film, and the presence of one of the people who appeared in the film, Ed Decker (head of one of the leading anti-Mormon organizations, Saints Alive), created further controversy. Needless to say, the showing provoked a lot of community uproar. Mormons vigorously called and complained to the local newspapers and local radio station for doing highly visible interviews with Ed Decker. Pastors of the sponsoring churches began receiving constant phone calls from the local Mormon community. The emotions were high in both the LDS and the evangelical Christian communities. (Decker 1990:11).
In March 1984, the Arizona Regional Board of the National Conference of Christians and Jews repudiated The God Makers in a decision entitled "Confronting Proselytization" (NCCJ 1984). After an investigation lasting several months, the NCCJ made its feelings clear. "The film does not—in our opinion—fairly portray the Mormon Church, Mormon history, or Mormon belief," they wrote.
It makes extensive use of ‘half-truth,' faulty generalizations, erroneous interpretations, and sensationalism. It is not reflective of the genuine spirit of the Mormon faith. We find particularly offensive the emphasis in the film that Mormonism is some sort of subversive plot—a danger to the community, a threat to the institution of marriage, and is destructive to the mental health of teenagers. All our experience with our Mormon neighbors provides eloquent refutation of these charges. We are of the opinion that The Godmakers relies heavily on appeals to fear, prejudice and other less worthy human emotions. We believe that continued use of this film poses genuine danger to the climate of good will and harmony which currently exists between Valley neighbors of differing faiths. It appears to us to be a basically unfair and untruthful presentation of what Mormons really believe and practice. (NCCJ 1984:3-4).
Those in favour of the film's widespread distribution responded to the NCCJ's report with "an entirely fictitious charge that the study committee and indeed the board of the Arizona NCCJ was Mormon dominated" (Eagle 1987). Don Eagle, then Regional Director of the NCCJ, felt that "[those] who now seek to discredit the report by falsifying the integrity and credentials of the NCCJ are to say the least disingenuous" (Eagle 1987).
1984 also saw the publication of what is, without question, Decker's most popular book, The God Makers, which was based on the film and which Decker co-authored with fellow countercult apologist Dave Hunt.
In 1987, a sequel, Temple of the God Makers was released, although this film is essentially spliced-together footage of much of what was in the original God Makers.
In 1992, Decker produced The God Makers II, again using footage from his two previous efforts. This time, however, the film took an even darker turn. While much of it concentrates on the wealth of the Mormon Church, a considerable portion focusses attention on Decker's perception of Mormon fundamentalism—-those who would allegedly see the Church return to the practice of polygamy and the ritual of blood atonement, which Decker and his associates interpret as legitimised murder within the LDS community for sins considered too egregious to be cleansed in any other way.
In 1993, with Caryl Matrisciana (the co-founder of Jeremiah Films, the film company which produced all three of Decker's films, and fellow countercult apologist; cf. Matrisciana 1985), Decker published the print version of The God Makers II.
For Decker, the problem of practical life with which he has all but exclusively concerned himself, while narrowed slightly in that his ministry concentrates most specifically on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry, is found most succinctly in the opening chapter of The God Makers II.
While the general Christian body sits quietly by, happily greeting the Mormons now showing up among them, the highly energized, heavily supported LDS missionary effort is stealing sheep from the same Christian flock by the hundreds of thousands. As we will see, the false doctrines of Mormonism are leading millions of precious people into a Christless eternity. (Decker and Matrisciana 1993:11)
While each of the countercult apologists profiled on this website focuses on a slightly different aspect of the problem, each defines the problem in similar ways and each employs like methods to resolve it. There are, however, certain significant differences which demonstrate the wide range of experience and education from which the field of Christian countercult apology draws.
Jan Karel van Baalen was a pastor of long experience and a scholar who had been educated at some of the finest institutions in the United States. Born and raised in the Christian Reformed tradition, this was the background he brought to his consideration of the problem represented by alternative religious choices in North American society and this background is reflected in his treatment of that problem.
Walter Martin's credentials, on the other hand, both pastoral and academic, have long been a point of contention which those who criticised (and continue to criticise) his work have sought to exploit. Whatever their respective pedigree, however, both men approached the problem as essential outsiders.
Ed Decker, a former Mormon and former Mason, approaches each of these as an apostate. As a result, there is a significantly different tenor to his work which often betrays the hostility he still feels toward his former religious and fraternal communities. As well, Decker has neither the specific pastoral training nor the specialised theological education which might appropriately prepare him for the kind of work he pursues; yet, he pursues it nonetheless.
See also Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Utah Lighthouse Ministry website, under Godmakers I & II, for an account of the dispute between Decker and the Tanners.
Friendship, whether platonic or intimate, is very often the avenue by which converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are made. During five years (July 1989–June 1994) living in Cardston, Alberta, as the United Church minister (in what might be called a de facto participant-observation experience), the author witnessed this interaction on numerous occasions. In some of these situations, the friend chose not to join the LDS church and the friendship ended; in others, the friendship continued; in still others, very often in the event of marriage or intended marriage, the conversion to Mormonism was effected. As well, several illustrations of this are found in Swendsen and Leavitt edited collection, Wise Men Still Seek Him: Personal Accounts of the Conversion of Some Members of the Calgary Fifth Ward (1990). For example, Victor Mark writes: "Monica let me know that there would be no marriage until my baptism had taken place. I'm not really sure how much that influenced me, but, in any event, the date was set. The baptism took place April 23, 1950" (Mark 1990). Only later, in the case of Lockhart ten years later (Lockhart 1991), does the theology and doctrine of the Latter-day Saints appear to challenge the affective relationships within the Church for dominance in the individual's life. See also the conversion stories of Bauer, Birch-Gentles, Cullis, Kroeker, Moore, Polund, Stevens, Swendsen, Timms, Yeo collected in Swendsen and Leavitt 1990.
For a brief history of the organisation, see Ed Decker, "Getting Involved In Ministry."
Saints Alive in Jesus Catalog, 1994.
On the production and release of The Godmakers film, see Brown and Brown 1995:1-70.
Douglas E. Cowan, Ph.D.
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Copyright © 1999 Douglas E. Cowan
1 See also Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Utah Lighthouse Ministry website, under Godmakers I & II, for an account of the dispute between Decker and the Tanners.
2 Friendship, whether platonic or intimate, is very often the avenue by which converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are made. During five years (July 1989–June 1994) living in Cardston, Alberta, as the United Church minister (in what might be called a de facto participant-observation experience), the author witnessed this interaction on numerous occasions. In some of these situations, the friend chose not to join the LDS church and the friendship ended; in others, the friendship continued; in still others, very often in the event of marriage or intended marriage, the conversion to Mormonism was effected. As well, several illustrations of this are found in Swendsen and Leavitt edited collection, Wise Men Still Seek Him: Personal Accounts of the Conversion of Some Members of the Calgary Fifth Ward (1990). For example, Victor Mark writes: "Monica let me know that there would be no marriage until my baptism had taken place. I'm not really sure how much that influenced me, but, in any event, the date was set. The baptism took place April 23, 1950" (Mark 1990). Only later, in the case of Lockhart ten years later (Lockhart 1991), does the theology and doctrine of the Latter-day Saints appear to challenge the affective relationships within the Church for dominance in the individual's life. See also the conversion stories of Bauer, Birch-Gentles, Cullis, Kroeker, Moore, Polund, Stevens, Swendsen, Timms, Yeo collected in Swendsen and Leavitt 1990.
3 For a brief history of the organisation, see Ed Decker, "Getting Involved In Ministry."
4 Saints Alive in Jesus Catalog, 1994.
5 On the production and release of The Godmakers film, see Brown and Brown 1995:1-70.