The following is the introduction to Mormonism 101 for Teens:
|Church Name||The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormon), the religion’s official title since 1851. The followers are nicknamed “Mormons,” which will be used throughout this book along with “LDS” when referring to the organization or its members.|
|Date Founded||April 6, 1830|
|LDS Church Founder||Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844)|
|Headquarters||Salt Lake City, UT (Temple Square and the Church Administration Building are located here).|
|Mormon Population||As of 2016, there are close to 16 million followers, growing by about a million every four years. More than half of all Mormons live outside the U.S.|
|Mormonism’s Top Leaders||The top leaders of the Mormon Church are the First Presidency, which is made up of the president (prophet) along with his two counselors; the twelve apostles; and the seventy. These leaders are called general authorities or, simply, the “Brethren.” Faithful Mormons are supposed to obey their teachings.|
|Held biannually (the first weekends of April and October), this is a series of special meetings held in Salt Lake City where the leaders and others speak authoritatively on a variety of issues. Many Mormon families make every effort to watch all the talks in person or on satellite television.|
|Mormon Missionaries||The Mormon Church sends out tens of thousands of missionaries, mainly older teenagers. The males, called elders, are eligible to go on 2-year missions at the age of 18 while the females, called sisters, serve 18 months beginning at the age of 19. Although it’s not a requirement to go on a mission, many feel peer pressure to do so.|
|Seminary||Local Mormon teenagers may attend classes at a church building near the high school. Outside Utah, the seminary class is typically held before school. Utah public schools, meanwhile, hold “release time” classes throughout the school day.|
“Dad, I don’t get it. Why do you care so much about the Mormons and their religion?”
It was a legitimate question asked by my oldest daughter Carissa who was about 12 years old at the time. Beginning in 2005, my wife Terri and I were considering a family move from Southern California to the state of Utah so that we could become full-time Christian missionaries in the state of Utah. I began volunteering for Bill McKeever, the founder of Mormonism Research Ministry (a Christian outreach), in 1989. Bill and his wife Tammy later left Southern California for Utah in 2004. But thinking about leaving “home” for a different state and requiring our children to abandon a wonderful Christian school didn’t make sense to Carissa. Actually, the idea probably didn’t make sense to a number of our friends and family.
Terri and I have never been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed Mormons, or LDS for short). And we personally knew few Mormons, although a number of Terri’s relatives are members of this religion. Terri and I first met on a Christian missions trip in the summer of 1987 in (guess where?) Salt Lake City, Utah. Within a few months of dating, I remember telling Terri, “If you marry me, understand that we may live in Utah one day.” On April 2, 1988, she agreed to my proposal on the San Diego Zoo Skyfari; just a few months later—August 20, to be exact—we were married. For more than a quarter century, Terri has been the perfect companion to me in this ministry, a supportive encourager in every possible way. Let it be known that, without her, I cannot be effective in Christian ministry.
So how did I answer the question posed by my daughter? I reminded her about the time in the Old Testament when God asked Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (6:8). Isaiah replied, “Here I am! Send me.” “Honey, God has laid it upon my heart to share truth with sincere people who are sincerely lost, at least in a spiritual sense,” I told her. “There are millions of people belonging to this religion who do their best to obey what they think God wants, but they don’t know about His grace and what it means to have their sins forgiven.” Needless to say, she didn’t appear to be completely convinced.
At the age of 16, Carissa graduated a year early from Christian High School in El Cajon, CA to make it possible for our family to move to Utah in the summer of 2010. She stayed in San Diego for the next year and finished her sophomore year of college before moving into our Sandy, Utah home (not far from Salt Lake City) in mid-2011. Carissa found a full-time job at a nearby gym and spent a year with us; her constant interaction with a mainly LDS audience helped her gain a compassionate love for the wonderful Mormon people. For two summers she was willing to get in front of my video camera to help me film some YouTube videos so others could be educated on Mormonism; these videos have been viewed thousands of times over the past few years.
“I think I finally get it,” Carissa, 19, told me in 2012. Indeed, I know she “gets it.” She sincerely loves the Mormon people! In fact, Carissa was instrumental in bringing a missions team from her large Evangelical Christian university to do evangelism in the state of Utah during her final semester. (She graduated in May 2016 from Liberty University with a master’s degree in English.)
For close to two decades, I taught high school Bible classes at Christian High, a private school of about six hundred students in grades 7-12. For the majority of these years, the class I taught was titled “Christian Apologetics,” which is nothing more than a fancy way to say “reasons to believe” in the Bible and Christianity. In the final two months of this course, we covered seven different world religions, including Mormonism. Besides teaching the history and doctrines of the religions, I provided an opportunity for my students to accompany me on weekend trips to mosques, temples, and synagogues. In fact, the Islamic imams, Hare Krishna devotees, and Jewish rabbis were some of my best instructors each year!
One of the most popular trips we took annually was to the Mormon Battalion Center in the “Old Town” part of San Diego. Each March I called the center to request LDS missionaries who would give us a tour in their facility and share their faith for several hours with my intrigued students. It provided a chance for my group to experience the heartfelt testimonies given by these young men and women—they usually ranged in age from 19 to 211 —and consider their sincere claim to truth.
These trips were helpful because my students were able to interact with actual adherents of this faith and observe their sincerity. Those I brought couldn’t just roll their eyes and say “this religion is stupid,” which was a common reaction many had when making conclusions about the different religions we studied. Instead, they had to contemplate what was taught and determine if Mormon doctrine made biblical sense. With the background knowledge I would provide through class lectures and videos, they were given a head start.
Perhaps more than any other religion, Mormonism intrigued these students. Time and time again I was asked, “Mr. Johnson, my Mormon friends/family members/neighbors are nice people. Why are they wrong?” Perhaps their interest came because they knew Mormons and had positive relationships with them. A number of times I had students pull me aside and ask if I thought it was OK for them to date Mormons.2
That’s why I’m so glad you picked up this book. By utilizing some quotes from LDS sources—including official teachings from the leadership as found in church manuals and magazines—I hope to clarify the religion to someone who has little to no prior understanding. At the same time, I won’t “dumb” down my presentation by writing beneath what I think the average teenager can understand. After all, my experience shows that teenagers are smarter than many adults give them credit.
There will be tables of terms and their LDS definitions at the beginning of several chapters. I just want you to remember that these will be the definitions given by Mormons, so don’t think that that I agree with the definitions or the theology of Mormonism. I will boldface the words when they are first used in that particular chapter. An index of terms is given in the back of the book to help the reader find topics quicker.
At the end of each chapter is a paragraph titled “Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend.” This short resource is meant to help Christians begin conversations with Mormons. I have also included “5 Points Overview” sections at the end of most chapters as a quick review. Please know that this book can be read out of order. Make this resource your own and let it work for you.
By keeping my ideas simple to fit a book of this size, I may not provide as many details as some readers might like. If you want more information, you might want to consider the other books that I have coauthored on Mormonism.3 In addition, I strongly encourage you to visit the MRM website (www.mrm.org), a place where you can learn more by reading the many dozens of articles and viewing the available videos.
A final note. Your Mormon friends might tell you that what you are reading is “anti-Mormon.” This term is used in a negative way to refer to someone who disagrees with Mormonism. In effect, they judge the author (that’s me) as being someone who hates Mormons, even though they don’t know me or may have never read anything I’ve ever written.
Their charge is false. In the preface to Mormonism 101, Bill McKeever and I talked about how disagreement does not equal hatred. Because I feel strongly about this, allow me to recite what Bill and I wrote, changing the first person plural pronouns to first person singular:
All in all, (I) will do (my) best to be respectful with (my) approach. Know that (I) don’t hold any animosity toward Latter-day Saints, many of whom (I) call family, friends, and neighbors. Be assured that (I am) moved with the same compassion felt by the LDS missionaries and lay members who attempt to defend what they believe to be true. While the facts as presented in this book may be ignored by certain readers who would question (my) motives, (I) echo the apostle Paul when he addressed the church of Galatia: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16). This book is the result of (my) concern for those who belong to the LDS faith as well as for those Christians who want to better engage Latter-day Saints in healthy dialogue.4
I am confident that the more you comprehend the differences between Mormonism and Christianity, the more likely you will be able to have intelligent conversations with those Latter-day Saints who attend your school, live in your neighborhood, and even belong to your extended family. May God richly bless you in your endeavors!
1 In October 2012, the LDS Church lowered the missionary age to 18 for the males and 19 for the females. Many missionaries go straight from high school to their missions.
2 We’ll talk more about this topic in chapter 8.
3 Answering Mormons’ Questions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2013) and Mormonism 101 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015). Both were written with Bill McKeever. I have used some material from these books in several places throughout this book.
4 Mormonism 101, p. 15.
To read more about Mormonism 101 for Teens, click here.