By Eric Johnson
Whenever Mormonism Research Ministry takes biblical truth to the streets in places like Manti, Utah or at various LDS temple openings, we regularly receive comments from Latter-day Saints who feel our motives are less than sincere and label us with the dubious title of “anti-Mormon.” Rarely does a week go by that we do not receive an e-mail message from a Latter-day Saint who claims we are motivated by hatred and bigotry. No matter how hard we might try to lovingly present our message, some will never concede that our intentions are based on a genuine concern for the LDS individual. Perhaps these people could learn a lesson from Brigham Young. In 1859 he taught:
“If I should hear a man advocate the erroneous principles he had imbibed through education, and oppose those principles, some might imagine that I was opposed to that man, when in fact I am only opposed to every evil and erroneous principles he advances” (Journal of Discourses 7:191).
President Young seemed to understand the difference between personal animosity and intellectual dialogue.
Our goal at MRM is not to be antagonistic. In fact, whenever a representative of MRM speaks publicly on this subject, we often emphasize how Christians should reflect a Christ-like attitude when sharing their faith. We must be firm in our convictions but compassionate and patient as well. (We agree that with some Mormons this is especially hard to do.) Remember that it is difficult to win a person to your way of thinking if arrogance is mingled with the message. It is true that, just as some Mormons want nothing more than to ridicule and insult those with whom they disagree, some Christians have done the same. This is wrong and always will be wrong.
What about those LDS who claim that we should do something more productive with our resources, such as make a stand for our own faith? Doesn’t our organization have love and compassion for Mormons? If so, the argument goes, we should leave them alone. It is very clear in the Bible, however, that love and compassion can be shown through the role of apologetics in the Christian life. This is why Peter writes,
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience;” (1 Peter 3:15-16a)
There are three things that should be noticed about this passage. First, we are commanded to give answers to the nonbeliever. The word “answer” comes from the Greek “apologeia.” This is where we get the word “apologetics,” which is the branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity. Although it is important to have a good understanding of the basic foundational truths of the Bible, Peter was not saying that we need to be walking encyclopedias with all of the information on Christianity and the Bible always at the tips of our tongues. We are blessed in this Information Age with many great resources, including the Internet, that any Christian who is willing to look for applicable information can find it.
Second, Peter says that we should do this with “meekness and fear.” (The NIV translates these words as “gentleness and respect.”) It is our priority to let the Mormon know that we value him or her as a real person. There is no room for thinking that we are better than the Latter-day Saint, and while we oftentimes will be quite straight-forward in our personal responses, we never intend to talk down to Mormons or insult them or their faith in any way.
Finally, Peter says that we should have a good, or clear, conscience. We are continually checking our motives and determining if what we are doing is for the betterment of the ministry of Christ or if something would merely be of the flesh. Admittedly, some of the mail we receive take potshots at us personally and our motives; this sometimes hurts, but we have to remind ourselves that Peter knew Christians would be the objects of verbal and behind-our-back attacks. Consider verses 16-17 of this same passage:
“that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing” (16b-17)
When compared to the treatment many of our Christian brothers and sisters receive in countries that are violently hostile to Christianity, we have a long way to go before we reach the suffering stage spoken of in this passage. Despite having false accusations made against us with our motives being judged (i.e. we hate Mormons, want to get rich, are employed by Satan, etc.), we know that our motivation is pure. We desire to see Mormons come to a saving relationship with the true Jesus of the Bible while informing the Christian Church that, despite the clean-cut family image that the LDS Church portrays, Mormonism is not Christianity.
For Mormons who doubt our motivation, we ask how they would like it if we accused their missionary force of the same things we are accused of. How do you think Mormons would respond if we declared that the only reason missionaries knock on people’s doors is because they are hateful, bigoted people who have nothing better to do than to question people about their beliefs? Why don’t they just go home and practice their religion without bothering other people instead of spending two years of their life venting hatred? Does this sound ludicrous? Of course it does.
Bill recalls a time when he was listening to a Christian girl defend her faith on the streets of Manti. Standing next to three Mormon men, he heard one say to his friends, “She’s an anti-Mormon.” Seeing an opportunity to engage in a dialogue Bill turned to the three young men and asked, “Just what is an anti-Mormon?” Not getting an immediate response he then asked, “Do you mean that any Christian who shares his faith with a Latter-day Saint is an anti-Mormon?”Still no response. Proceeding further he asked, “If a Christian is an ‘anti-Mormon’ for sharing his faith with a Mormon, am I to assume that when a Mormon shares his faith with a Christian he is an anti-Christian? Am I to assume that when the Mormon missionary comes to the door of a Christian they too must be anti-Christians?” To this they all disagreed. “Wait a minute,” Bill said, “A Christian is labeled an ‘anti-Mormon’ for sharing what they believe to be true with Latter-day Saints, but Latter-day Saints are not anti-Christian for sharing what they believe to be true with Christians.” “My friends,” he said, “this is not consistent.”
While we strongly disagree with the message Mormons bring, we have never questioned the fact that, for the most part, most Latter-day Saints sincerely desire to share what they believe is true with those outside of their church. Unless we could present evidence to show that the motives of the Mormon were less than honorable, we would have no right to cast doubt on their sincerity. So too, unless the Mormon has evidence showing how the motives at MRM and that of other Christians are wrong, he has no right to question our sincere desire to share what we believe to be true. The problem with many Mormons is that they incorrectly define disagreement as hatred.
The problem we have with the LDS missionary movement is the methods they are taught to employ, not their motives. It is a known fact that the average person who only has the vague missionary lessons to go by will be hard-pressed to adequately understand the implications of Mormon doctrine! While we defend the right of the Mormon missionaries (and all other Mormons) to share their faith, we find it unconscionable that they do not tell the prospective convert the whole story.
It is also important to note that our purpose and methods are fully supported by the Bible. If anything, we have probably been less blunt than our biblical examples. I have yet to see Mormons point to Jesus and say that He did not love the people of His time, despite the many instances where Jesus presented a message that the Jews felt contradicted their present system of reliance upon the law. Nowhere do we see the motives of Jesus being questioned when he called the religious people serpents, white-washed tombs, and sons of their father, the devil. Nowhere do we see Mormons pointing to Paul and saying that his methods were not correct, despite the many instances where Paul reasoned from the Scriptures with people-both Jew and Greek-who did not believe as he did (Acts 17:2-4, 17ff). In fact, nowhere do we see any biblical author propose that the Christian should accept any idea or worldview without thinking it through both logically and biblically.
This is the reason why Jesus, Paul, and Peter all used the Old Testament writings to support the role of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This is also why we are clearly told to NOT pray for good feelings about a religion but to test everything (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1). And this test that leads us to our faith should be used, as Jude wrote, to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (vs. 3). This is all part of the role of “apologetics”- the defense of the Christian faith using facts and rational arguments.
The Christian must not forget that Mormons are people who are just as much in need of God’s forgiveness as anyone else is. They are not the enemy. Our goal at MRM is to win Latter-day Saints to truth. Therefore, our battle is “against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). While we may plead guilty to being against Mormonism, we are not at all against Mormons. To say we are anti-Mormon is both offensive and inaccurate.