Good News for Mormon Women: The Overcoming Obstacles Approach

By Sharon Lindbloom

Summary

Many obstacles can stand in the way of Mormons recognizing the truth about Mormonism and accepting God’s merciful gift of redemption in Christ alone. For many LDS women, those barriers are deep-set, high, and very wide. Yet as Christians learn to understand and address these obstacles, the eternal fears with which Mormon women struggle can be replaced with eternal hope.

 

Introduction

Mormon women want what Mormonism promises. Generally speaking, traditional Mormon women want “Forever Families” and are committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve this goal. They want the presence of divine power in their homes to bless and to heal, and they believe that power is available only through Mormonism’s Melchizedek Priesthood. They want to return to their Heavenly Father when this life is over and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” an acknowledgement that can only be theirs if they prove themselves worthy by attaining perfection.[1]

The deep desires of a Mormon woman’s heart may severely hinder Christians who seek to share the Good News with them. Being aware of these obstacles is important ­— to understand them helps us to more effectively share Christ.

The Obstacle of a “Forever Family”[2]

One of the biggest draws of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the religion’s promise that families can be together forever. This means that people whose familial bonds are “sealed” in an LDS temple may enjoy the same family relationship in heaven as they have on Earth. A woman will have her husband and children with her throughout eternity and will enjoy the highest eternal blessings possible — as long as:

  1. She is married (sealed) in an LDS temple by the authority of Mormonism’s Melchizedek Priesthood; and
  2. She and each member of her family remains worthy by keeping the essential covenants they make with God.[3]

If she does these things, her family will be together forever. But if any of these covenants is broken, her hope for a forever family is broken as well.

In many ways, the spiritual well-being of a Mormon woman’s family rests on her. Consequently, LDS women are fierce protectors of their families. In January 2018, seventeenth LDS President Russell M. Nelson said women were created “to bear and care for the sons and daughters of God.” On a different occasion, LDS Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland explained,

Mothers, cherish that role that is so uniquely yours and for which heaven itself sends angels to watch over you and your little ones. Yours is the work of salvation, and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are, better than you are, and better than you have ever been.[4]

For a Mormon woman to question Mormonism or to consider biblical Christianity is to put too much at risk. Hers is a work of salvation. She has a forever family that she must nurture and protect, understanding that this is the very reason she was created. Consequently, she is highly resistant to any challenges to her faith.

The Obstacle of Priesthood Power

Mormonism promises all worthy men “the pow­er and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things pertaining to the salvation of men.”[5] The Melchizedek Priesthood allows men to administer to the sick and give special blessings to family members (and others). The benefits of this divine priesthood power and authority are available to women only through LDS men.

As women seek to fulfill their callings to protect and nurture their families, they rely heavily on priesthood power to provide blessings, healings, and comfort. This was demonstrated to me when a Mormon acquaintance lost her son to cancer. Later, as she spoke of the ongoing depth of her grief, she said, “I could not have made it these past two years without the priesthood.”

For a Mormon woman to question – and perhaps leave – Mormonism is to risk losing the blessings and protection of the LDS priesthood. She doesn’t know about the merciful and gracious blessings from God Himself that can be hers through Christ alone.

The Obstacle of the Celestial Kingdom

The Mormon plan of salvation indicates that nearly everyone will go to one of three possible heavenly kingdoms after they die. The best of the three is the celestial kingdom, which is itself divided into degrees. The highest degree in the celestial kingdom — the best eternal life that a Mormon can hope for — is only possible for those who have been married (sealed) for time and eternity in a Mormon temple. A Mormon’s achievement of this highest level of heaven is called “exaltation,” and it is only there that forever families exist.

An early LDS apostle taught, “No woman will get into the celestial kingdom, except her husband receives her, if she is worthy to have a husband; and if not, somebody will receive her as a servant.”[6] While this idea is not so clearly stated today, many LDS women continue to believe that their eternal hope is dependent on being married to a worthy LDS man who can take them to the celestial kingdom.

But questioning Mormonism carries with it a very real risk of divorce. Because Mormonism teaches that a worthy spouse is necessary for a person to attain the celestial kingdom, when one spouse stops believing, the other is left without that necessary component for his or her own exaltation. For a Mormon woman to consider reevaluating the teachings of Mormonism, or allow her husband to do so, is to place her hope of the celestial kingdom in limbo.

As Christians, we know that these fears are all unfounded. But for an LDS woman who has not yet understood God’s truth, her fears are very real and compelling. Why should she listen to a Christian and risk the fulfillment of the deepest desires of her heart?

Deep Needs vs. Deep Desires

One reason a Mormon woman might listen to a Christian is that she recognizes she is failing to do all that Mormonism requires of her. Many Mormon women are exhausted and discouraged. They are desperate for Good News.

In a landmark study published in 2004, researchers reported that “LDS women are significantly higher in depression than non-LDS women.”[7] More recently, in a less formal survey, Mormon author Jana Riess found that 27% of Mormon women have taken or are currently taking medication for depression compared to 14.5% of Mormon men.[8]

Women in Mormonism carry heavy burdens. In addition to Mormonism’s doctrinal requirements every Latter-day Saint must struggle with,[9] Mormon females have weighty obligations of cultural expectations as well. In 2007, Julie B. Beck, then president of the LDS Church’s women’s organization, explained that, among other things, faithful LDS women should desire children, bring their children to church well-groomed, and nurture their families through cooking, cleaning, and keeping an orderly home. “Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world,” Beck said. They “should be the very best in the world at upholding, nurturing, and protecting families.”[10] Culturally, the success and value of a Mormon woman is determined by the level of perfection she has achieved in her home and family. It is no wonder LDS women struggle with depression and discouragement.

The pressures are so great that some LDS women find the perfection required of them, both doctrinally and culturally, to be unlivable. Knowing they cannot attain this perfection, desperation leads these women to try to recreate Mormonism into something less demanding. They close their ears to the obedience-laden teachings of their church leaders and redefine Mormonism’s requirements, clinging to the hope that they might live by grace instead. But this is not the religion they belong to, the one on which they hang their hope for eternal life.

The spirituality of LDS women encompasses two sides held in tension. One side does not want to take the risk of hearing anything that might challenge her Mormonism; the other is desperate for God’s grace.

Worth the Risk

The apostle Paul wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”[11] Our first hurdle as Christian evangelists is to help Mormon women recognize that the risk is worth taking. Each woman needs to see authentic Christianity and see in it a glimmer of hope for her future and the future of her family.

Most LDS women are a long way from trading in their deeply held hopes and desires in order to gain Christ. They really don’t know who Christ is or what He offers them. They don’t know that trading Mormonism for Jesus represents immeasurable gain. So they ignore street evangelists. They refrain from reading anything critical of the LDS Church. And they avoid dialogue that involves difficult questions related to Mormonism.

While men are generally more willing to engage in street-corner debates and are open to reading critical material (often with an eye toward refuting it), women are different creatures. In her chapter titled “Sharing the Truth with LDS Women: The Compassion Approach” found in the print edition of Sharing the Good News with Mormons, Becky Walker explains some of these differences and notes that reaching Mormon women for Christ requires time, patience, and authentic relationship-building, providing Mormon women a safe place to share their questions and fears.

I experienced this myself when a dear friend of mine joined the LDS Church. I wanted desperately to rescue her, to speak the truth in love to her, and to challenge Mormonism and all the unbiblical doctrines it espouses. But the more I attempted that, the more strained our relationship became until we arrived at a point where even being in the same room together was nearly unbearable.

For almost two decades I prayed for my friend from a distance. And then a miracle occurred: God opened a door for reconciliation. With our relationship tentatively restored, we began again, building trust through vulnerability and transparency. When my friend began to question Mormonism a few years later, she knew she could come to me with her questions and concerns. She believed she could trust me to have her best interests at heart. Because of this trust, she was willing to accept a gift from me: A Bible that would be easier for her to understand than the LDS edition of the King James Version. As my friend read that Bible, God opened her eyes to His truth. After 20 long years, God answered my ongoing prayer for my dear friend’s salvation!

Not every Christian is in a position to build long-term relationships with LDS women, yet our hearts ache just as much for each heavily-burdened Mormon woman we meet. Considering her reluctance to entertain any challenging perspective of her faith, how can Christians effectively share Good News with a Mormon woman in a shorter exchange?

Opening a Dialogue

While participating in a Christian outreach during the Payson, Utah LDS temple open house in 2015, MRM’s Eric Johnson and I were distributing Christian newspapers to homes in the area when we encountered a woman outside doing lawn work. We greeted her with a friendly hello and offered her a copy of the newspaper. Audrey was happy for an interruption that would allow her to rest her aching back, so we began chatting about nothing in particular.

As we listened, we learned that she was a lifelong Mormon who had a desire to know Christ better. When we discovered that desire and need in her, it was natural for us to guide the conversation toward Jesus and the Bible in which He’s revealed. After a long and friendly discussion, Audrey hesitantly accepted Eric’s gift of a modern-translation Bible. Because of the fears instilled in her by Mormonism, Audrey would not promise to read that Bible, but she did promise to pray about whether she should read it.

Often a friendly word or an attitude of helpfulness will bring about an opportunity to talk with an LDS woman on the street — or in a store, at a library, or at a child’s sports game. Being truly interested in her and really listening to what she says will open a door for addressing topics that really matter to her. This won’t necessarily lead to an opportunity to present a full gospel message, but God may grant the chance to prayerfully sow some seeds.

It may sometimes seem as if those seeds are falling on rocky or thorny ground. As the woman shifts into protective mode, she may present an attitude of total indifference to any facts or concerns about Mormonism that are introduced. The obstacles seem impenetrable. One friend, after describing a frustrating encounter like this, said he thought, “There’s no way I could ever reach her.” Yet even in the face of a Mormon woman’s reluctance to engage the facts, even if it seems that she is not hearing a word, God is still at work. We’ve heard it many times: God’s people are called to sow the seeds, but the harvest belongs to the Lord.

Sharing the Good News with Mormons presents various ideas for challenging Mormonism and presenting the Gospel to Latter-day Saints. Any of these approaches can be equally effective with both men and women, but the emotional complexities of women may present a different kind of challenge. It’s not uncommon for a Mormon woman to express her deep-held convictions with a tearful appeal to her experiences.

For example, a widow may speak about the pain of losing her husband and the comfort she finds in knowing that, because of the temple, her family will last forever. As she bears her LDS testimony through her tears, any kindhearted person would long to comfort her, not strip her of that comfort by challenging her faith! Yet we know that the comfort and hope she finds in Mormonism is misplaced. Her true comfort and only hope is found in the one true God. The temptation to keep this life-redeeming truth to ourselves must be resisted. My ex-LDS friend Pam wholeheartedly agrees.

Pam converted to Mormonism in the 1980s. She met the man who would become her husband at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University and they were later sealed in the Provo temple. Three children later, Pam discovered that Mormonism was not true. She was introduced to Ross, a Christian evangelist, who helped guide her to Christ. Pam’s husband was not happy. He threatened that he would divorce Pam and keep her from seeing her children if she left Mormonism. “But,” Pam said, “I could not live something I did not believe.” So she did leave Mormonism – and lost everything. She lost her marriage, her children, her support system, her friends, and what she understood to be her purpose in life. Ross was heartbroken for Pam and told her that her suffering made him sorry he ever introduced her to Jesus. But Pam chided him, telling him he should never be sorry; the promises of Christ are priceless.

Eventually God restored Pam’s relationship with her children. Her sense of purpose in life was restored when God called Pam to work with difficult kids as a specialized therapeutic foster parent. Pam admits that hers has been a life marked by pain, but also by joy. She knows God is faithful. “I have never regretted leaving Mormonism,” she told me recently. “Serving a risen Savior has been worth it all.”

When I am engaged in an emotionally charged conversation with a Mormon woman, I think of Pam. As the Mormon woman shares her feelings and pain, I listen, express authentic sympathy, and then relate something from my own life that helps her understand that I “get it.” Once she is assured that I am not minimizing or discounting her feelings and experiences, I move beyond any intimidation I might feel because of her tears and tell her about God’s truth. This has to be done in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:24-26, with kindness, gentleness, and respect. It’s not easy, but it is what she truly needs.

Overcoming Obstacles with God’s Truth

When God grants opportunity for Christians to interact with Mormon women, we need to be ready by knowing the obstacles that are in place and addressing the eternal hopes and fears with which Mormon women wrestle.

Mormon women want the forever family they are promised in Mormonism, but because it is predicated on each family member’s worthiness, they have no assurance that their families will make it intact to the celestial kingdom. It’s really an impossible endeavor. They need to know about God’s forever family — that they can be with their loved ones eternally, for all those who have faith in Christ alone are adopted sons and daughters of God. God’s forever family is based on Him and His faithfulness, not the inadequate efforts of unworthy human beings.

Mormon women want the power of the LDS priesthood in their homes, thinking that it is there that they find comfort, healing, protection, and peace. They need to know that all of these things – and more – can be theirs through faith in Christ alone. He is our comforter. He is our healer. He is our protector, and He is our peace. For those who trust in Him, nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.[12]

Mormon women want the best eternal reward God has to offer, achievable in Mormonism only as a married couple through perfect obedience to the LDS laws and ordinances[13] – again, an impossible endeavor. They need to know that salvation is in Christ alone. The hope of heaven does not hinge on a husband’s worthiness, on perfectly obeying a list of rules, or on perfectly completing a set of rituals. She can go right to Jesus and be saved, rescued, and redeemed by the One who died for His own.

Mormon women know they are not succeeding in doing all they need to do to secure the deep desires of their hearts.[14] As they grapple with exhaustion and hopelessness, recreating Mormonism into something they can live with, they need to be brought face-to-face with the harsh realities of what Mormonism actually demands of them. As heartbreaking as it is to present bad news, they must understand that all of their striving to achieve a forever family in Mormonism really is as hopeless as they fear.

Above all, Mormon women need to know the beauty of God’s grace, a grace freely given to imperfect people with imperfect faith by our perfect and magnificent God. As we share this Good News with them, by God’s grace we can allay their fears and invite them to set their burdens down.[15] We can give them the best news – the joyful truth that Jesus is enough.

 

Sharon Lindbloom (Eden Prairie, Minnesota) has been involved in Christian missions to Mormons since 1987. After serving for nearly two decades as director of a Minnesota-based outreach ministry to Mormons, Sharon joined the staff of Mormonism Research Ministry (www.mrm.org), where she has served since 2006. She writes a regular column that can be found at http://www.mrm.org/category/in-the-news.

[1] Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1969), 6.

[2] “Forever Family” is a term used by some Mormons regarding this issue. For instance, see https://foreverfamilies.byu.edu/Pages/home.aspx

[3] Gospel Principles 2009 edition (Salt Lake City, UT: Intellectual Reserve, 1978), 209.

[4] “A Message from President Russell M. Nelson,” https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/russell-m-nelson-17th-church-president 2:18:36; “Motherhood: An Eternal Partnership with God: Elder Jeffery R. Holland shares a tribute to Mothers” https://www.lds.org/pages/motherhood?lang=eng

[5] Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 494.

[6] Erastus Snow, October 4, 1857, Journal of Discourses 5:291.

[7] Tim B. Heaton, Stephen J. Bahr, Cardell K. Jacobson, Statistical Profile of Mormons – Health, Wealth, and Social Life, 2004, quoted by McKenna Park, “Mormon culture influences mental illness trends among members,” The Daily Universe, 5 February 2018, http://universe.byu.edu/2018/02/05/mental-illness-1/

[8] Jana Riess, “Mormon women and depression, revisited,” 25 April 2017.

[9] For more on this, see chapter 24 in Sharing the Good News with Mormons, “I’m Trying My Best: The Impossible Gospel Approach” by Keith Walker.

[10] Julie B. Beck, “Mothers Who Know.

[11] Philippians 3:8.

[12] Romans 8:38-39.

[13] Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith, article 4.

[14] Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:32.

[15] Matthew 11:30.