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SALT LAKE CITY — Latter-day Saint Ryan Baker has been a member of Samaritan Ministries for about two years. Just a few days ago, the Christian health care organization told him he would need to reconcile his beliefs with "historic Christianity" in order to fulfill the requirements of remaining in the organization.
“As a community of Christians who help other Christians with their health care, our Guidelines require that all adult members are in agreement with Samaritan Ministries’ Statement of Faith in order to be members,” the Illinois-based organization said in an email to Baker.
The organization’s statement of faith is grounded in the Bible, while Latter-day Saints “historically … affirm additional scriptures as authoritative,” the letter continues. Those scriptures, as well as leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have “denied at least some portion” of the organization’s statement of faith, the letter adds.
Baker, a Utah native now living in Alaska, said when he joined the organization he promised to attend church regularly; abstain from drugs, alcohol and extramarital sex; and abide by other requirements, but he didn’t recall any of his beliefs being contrary to the organization’s — nor did anyone flag his admission application.
“Had I known, I wouldn't have voluntarily signed up. But we knew a lot of other LDS people who had been in it and never had an issue,” he said.
Samaritan Ministries is a nonprofit health care organization that allows members to help each other with medical expenses instead of using traditional health insurance. Each month, the members send their “share” to other members who need to pay for health care. When a member is in need, they can contact the organization and receive help directly from others in the organization.
“They've been great,” Baker said. “We feel like we've benefited from it, and we say we've benefited other people. We're happy to be a part of it. So we're a little taken aback by this.”
Baker said he received a call Friday from one of Samaritan Ministries’ “extremely diplomatic” pastoral care specialists tasked with contacting some Latter-day Saints involved in the organization. When Baker told him he wouldn’t have time to talk while at work, the specialist sent him the letter detailing the theological differences between Latter-day Saints and the organization’s statement of faith.
According to the letter, the Bible teaches that eternal life is a free gift granted by grace alone, while Latter-day Saints believe that, while resurrection is a free gift, exaltation is based on good “works” and adherence to commandments.
The statement of faith on the organization’s website, however, only requires members to “believe that all people have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and can be saved from eternal death only through faith in Jesus Christ."
The letter also states that “Mormonism” does not accept “the triune God of the Bible” — the belief that God is three persons in one — but rather asserts that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are three separate and unique beings.
“I am not ignorant of the traditional differences between my church and certain other Christian denominations regarding what the Bible actually teaches regarding the nature of the Godhead, or the Trinity, or the triune God, but I never imagined that those differences, which intelligent and devout Christians have been discussing for centuries, would be grounds for being deemed inconsistent with the statement of faith,” Baker said.
“Are the differences … so significant that people whose conceptions of deity vary slightly can't cooperate in a practical and earthly endeavor such as sharing health care costs?”
Baker said he and his family would like to remain a part of the organization, and he hopes to help clarify what he says is a lack of understanding about the church and its beliefs.
“They provide wiggle room on certain areas, especially regarding tobacco use, but in this case, it seems like they want to take a very strict, hard line, definitionally, on what a Christian is,” he said.
Samaritan Ministries declined an interview but sent KSL.com a brief statement that cited the “Affordable Care Act’s requirement that members of health care sharing ministries share ‘a common set of religious beliefs.’”
“Samaritan Ministries is a 501c3 not-for-profit Christian health care sharing ministry with over 80,000 Christian households across the country directly sharing each other’s health care expenses for the glory of God. ... Samaritan members are required to sign a Christian Statement of Faith that outlines the Biblical beliefs of historic Christianity,” the statement reads.
The letter Baker received encourages “anyone who is in fellowship with the LDS faith” to attend a “Biblical Christian” church and reflect on their ability to affirm the organization’s statement of faith.
“If you genuinely affirm Samaritan’s Statement of Faith and your church, ward, temple, or fellowship cannot, we kindly and sincerely ask how you are able to reconcile the LDS teachings with your Biblical, Christian confession with Samaritan Ministries,” the letter reads.
Baker said he’s grateful the organization has reached out instead of instantly expelling him and thinks they’re trying to understand – though he’s surprised it’s an issue at all.
“The approach seemed a little heavy-handed,” he said. “If they feel that they have to take steps to kick us out, then I’ll let them take that step.”
Following the publication of this article, Samaritan Ministries again contacted KSL.com with another brief statement:
"Samaritan Ministries has never removed any person from membership, nor will it, solely because of their church affiliation, if we have already accepted them into membership and they have signed our Statement of Faith and re-affirm it yearly. This is true for all Samaritan Ministries members."
The organization has not yet specified whether this will affect Latter-day Saints who apply to enter the organization in the future, neither have they specified whether there will be consequences for those who sign the statement of faith but remain active and profess belief in a church that has theological differences.
When asked whether he would reaffirm the organization's statement of faith, Baker said, "I would like to continue my participation with Samaritan, but I will not disavow in any way my allegiance to or membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Baker said his beliefs are in accordance with the teachings of God in the Bible and, while he understands faithful Christians may disagree on the exact nature of the Godhead and that private organizations should have the right to set standards for membership, "it's wrong-headed and lamentable that this would be seen as too big a hurdle to overcome to work together in a practical matter such as sharing healthcare costs."