How to Win Friends and Influence Mormons
There have been some discussion and perhaps lamentation about methods used by critics of Mormonism, or in Evangelism towards Mormons (depending on your perspective). I’ve made various comments here and there in this blog but I feel it is important to state these matters in one place.
One thing that can be done is to examine one’s motives and goals, as well as outcomes and results of the approaches taken to achieve those goals. Among the various goals that critics of Mormonism have these seem to be the major ones:
1) Winning a theological debate with a Mormon, preferably with others watching. This usually includes a back and forth of various biblical passages (either in the printed or spoken word) and the end result is that neither side is persuaded, but end up usually more committed to their position or feel that further communication is futile.
2) Discharging a believed duty to “tell it like it is.” Here the goal is achieved by telling a Mormon how false their beliefs are. It isn’t clear they expect the Mormon to change his or her belief, as much as they are satisfied in discharging their duty (i.e. ‘consider yourself warned’). There is no concern for follow up with this goal. This is perhaps the easiest goal to achieve.
3) “Outing” Mormons or the “What Mormons really teach” or “What Mormons really believe” approach. This is a popular goal. The idea is that Mormons are dishonest in their beliefs in order to deceive people into joining their church and so the goal here is exposing Mormonism for what it is. It’s unclear that there are any goals beyond this. The result is that LDS feel that the depiction of LDS beliefs given by these critics simply does not reflect what they themselves believe. Often it is seen by LDS as a twisted and warped caricature. In which case, the critic concludes that a) this person continues to lie or b) this is one of those Mormons who is ignorant about what their church really teaches. Another label for this is the “let me teach you what your church really believes” approach. Often this approach can be seen as being directed towards potential converts rather than LDS themselves.
4) Trying to get Mormons to drop their unique Mormon beliefs. This one is directed towards an individual Mormon and the idea is not to get them to believe something affirmatively, but to try to get the Mormon to stop believing in either the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith, or the church as an institution (the deconversion approach). Often tactics involved are naturalistic or secular and could easily undermine any belief in God, Christ, the Bible etc. At any rate, the goal would be completely achieved if the Mormon would simply drop their false beliefs. However, there is no attempt to actually preach good news to the Mormon, because “preach the Gospel” has been interpreted to mean “to cause to stop believing.” LDS see this approach as using a double standard and simply doesn’t have any appeal.
5) A variation of the theme is to try to get LDS to acknowledge their church has problems or to get an LDS person to complain about things they don’t like about their church. The idea is similar to “I will complain about my faith if you complain about yours.” The notion here is that any progress one can make in getting LDS to see defects in their church the better, and the appeal is that it isn’t blatant and in your face, and perhaps if we can get LDS to be dissatisfied with their church, the goal is achieved. And while I agree this approach isn’t in-your-face blatant, it’s a negative approach and lacking in any substance of “good news.”
6) The Reverse Engineered Ex-Mormon Testimony Approach. This approach is to collect various testimonies of Latter-day Saints who have left the Church. The idea is that by showing faithful Latter-day Saints all the reasons that others have left the church that they too will seriously consider leaving the Church. “Look, just go through all the same steps and reasoning that this person went through who left the Church, and you too will leave the Church!”
There are serious problems with each of these goals and accompanying approaches. For starters, they are extremely ineffective from the LDS perspective. Also, there is a complete lack of love and concern motivated by love. This can often be seen in the notion that critics are adamant that achieving goals 1-6 do not require friendship or a relationship. Many critics state that they are not trying to make friends or to be nice, but simply to discharge their duty. In addition, there really isn’t any motivation to listen to LDS and understand them from their perspective. The idea is that it is a waste of time to get to understand false doctrine. As one Christian radio commentator put it, Christians trying to understand Mormons would be like the US trying to understand the Nazis during WWII, in other words, a waste of time, not to mention dangerous and naive.
So, what are better goals to have and the effective approaches that should go with them?
1) The goal to charitably understand their Mormon neighbors. Given the context that we live in a pluralistic society, and that not everyone is going to be of the same faith, understanding our neighbors is a vital goal. This only happens through sustained dialogue.
2) Develop the mindset that you don’t just want Mormons to stop believing things, but to believe things in the affirmative. Drop the emphasis on getting LDS to stop believing things and rather focus on positive things to believe. One example here is the many Evangelicals who want to encourage LDS to develop their notions of grace. Look for doctrines in contemporary Mormonism that you can appreciate and encourage LDS to develop those doctrines.
3) Develop the mindset that your goal is to make it appealing for LDS to join worship services with you and to show them the beauty that is there. This is a much more difficult goal and it won’t be achieved by simply giving Mormons ‘what for.’ Ask a Mormon if they want to attend church with ______ (fill in the name of your favorite counter-cultist here). Do you think they would want to attend church with you? If not, then we have a problem.
4) Develop the goal of encouraging Mormons to grow closer to God within Mormonism, within their own church. The goal really isn’t about getting Mormons to stop going to their church (a formalistic goal), but the goal should be to encourage someone to grow closer to Christ and develop their relationship with God. Some Evangelicals understand that when an LDS person leaves the faith and perhaps Christianity all together, they have failed in their duty, because they had the wrong goals. They didn’t see the bigger picture. They were too excited about getting someone to leave something that no time was spent in true Christian fellowship, and in preaching the good news.
5) Allow God to have a role. Perhaps you think your goal is to get someone to leave Mormonism. Develop the mindset that perhaps God’s ways are not your ways. Maybe you want to tell someone that Mormonism is false, but why? What is your motivation? Is it to serve God? Is it based in love? Is it to help someone see the beauty of Christ? Or are you just satisfied if they see the ugliness of ‘themselves’? Raise your standards and stop being satisfied if a Mormon ‘stops’ believing in something. Rather, the goal to be to show them the beauty you find in Christ and then let God play a role in their life.