by Sharon Lindbloom
21 March 2018
On March 8, 2018, Deseret News ran a story with a lengthy title that began, “How technology is changing Mormon missionary work.” This article discusses the LDS missionary force’s increased use of technology to find and teach investigators, often via online chats.
Relating one such chat, the Deseret News article quotes sister missionary Kimeme Ackley as she greets an online contact, “What brings you to Mormon.org today?” The man on the other end of the chat wrote back,
“I’ve wondered what a Mormon is. I’ve heard good things about Mormons, but I want to know what their purpose is. I’d be grateful for an answer.”
This connection led to an hour-long online conversation during which the responding LDS missionary pair shared their beliefs. Eventually, the man on the other end of the chat met with local missionaries and joined the LDS Church.
Deseret News explained that this online chat “is one example of the many ways technology is changing Mormon missions from Temple Square to Tokyo.”
According to one of the missionaries interviewed for the Deseret News article, the sort of online conversation that leads to baptism is a rare “tender mercy.” Not everyone is receptive to the LDS gospel, and this hints at another way technology is changing Mormon missionary work.
Though not specified in the Deseret News article, the Internet has led to many people being better informed about Mormonism. When Mormon missionaries–both those online and those still going door-to-door–meet new contacts today, they are far more likely to be asked thorny questions about the Church, more so than they have been in the past. These days, a Mormon missionary discussion might include investigator questions like these:
Investigator: I read online that Brigham Young denied black people access to your church’s highest saving ordinances and claimed this racist policy was revealed by God. But, in fact, it was just Brigham Young mistaking cultural racism for revelation. And this mistake was embraced by subsequent Mormon prophets, none of them recognizing that it was not a God-given revelation until just a few years ago. Is this true? How could a church that claims direct and constant communication with God through living prophets be so wrong for so long?
Investigator: I was looking up Mormonism on the Internet and found out that the founder of your religion, Joseph Smith, married almost 40 women! And he married some of these women while they were legally married to other men. And he married some of them when they were only 14 years old. And at least once he even pressured a potential plural wife by promising that if she married him, she and her family would receive salvation, but if she didn’t accept his plural marriage proposal, they would all be damned. I’ve heard Mormons defending Joseph Smith, insisting that he was a godly man of solid decency and integrity. Considering his polygamous history involving repeated deceit, young girls, and married women, would you agree?
Investigator: I visited a website and saw the words of a sermon that was preached in 1852 by Brigham Young, then the Mormon Church’s prophet. In this sermon, Brigham Young said the first man, Adam, is our Father and our God, and the only God we have anything to do with. He said that Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost but was begotten in the flesh by the same “character” that was in the Garden of Eden, “our Father in Heaven,” who, in context, is Adam. Brigham Young insisted he was telling the truth! Has the LDS Church denounced this teaching as false and Brigham Young as a false prophet? Or is this really what the Mormon Church believes and teaches about God?
Investigator: Once, when I googled to learn about Mormonism’s God, I read an article that explained Joseph Smith’s teachings on who God is – that God was not always God but was once just a human being like us, and that He lived on another earth, and that He was able to become a God, and that we, too, can become Gods in the same way, just like all other Gods have done before us. I have to say, when I read that, I couldn’t believe that Mormonism claims to be a Christian religion that accepts the Bible. None of this is in the Bible! In fact, all of these teachings from Joseph Smith are refuted in the Bible. How do you explain this?
Investigator: You and other Mormons have told me that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sees the Bible and the Book of Mormon as “companion” scriptures that work together to tell us about Jesus Christ. But when I did some online research about the Mormon view of the Bible, I found many statements by Mormon leaders, reaching all the way back to Mormonism’s founding, and even in the Book of Mormon itself, that says the Bible is untrustworthy, incomplete, corrupted, and sabotaged by evil people. On the other hand, LDS leaders have taught that the Book of Mormon is correct, and so any questions about the biblical text must be settled by an appeal to that book. So while saying Mormons believe the Bible to be the word of God, don’t Mormons also believe that the Bible can’t be trusted? As a Christian, I’m really not comfortable with that.
Eric Johnson, my colleague at MRM, has analyzed the declining conversion rate experienced by Mormon missionaries. He explains,
“Unlike two or three decades ago, the technology of the Internet has been detrimental to the church. Before 1995, someone who wanted to research Mormonism and its beliefs would have had to visit a local library. Today, the information about the church is available in the privacy of one’s home where nobody else has to know. Thus, the church was able to grow by 330,000 converts in 1990; however, despite double the membership a quarter century later, the annual convert rate has declined by about 30%.” (“Missionary numbers, converts keep going down, down, down” at mrm.org)
This is one way that technology is changing Mormon missionary work. Because of the Internet, it is now much easier for people to understand what Mormonism really is and how it conflicts with biblical faith. This change brought on by technology is something for which I am profoundly grateful.