Witnessing to Mormon Missionaries

Someone recently asked me to tell him everything he needs to know about Mormonism.  The catch was that I only had 5 to 10 minutes to do it.  I decided then and there that the most important thing I can teach other Evangelicals about Mormonism is what to do when missionaries show up at their door.

I think there is a lot that Evangelicals can do to change Mormonism, and since the place Mormons and Evangelicals are most likely to meet is the door step, I think it would be helpful for Evangelicals to have a preset strategy.  Those missionaries are sent out with a specific set of instructions and teachings to prioritize.  It’s only right that we welcome them to our homes with the same level of organization.  The problem for me is that Mormon missionaries spend about 3 months studying and getting ready. I’ve got 5 minutes to tell an Evangelical everything they need to know.

One thing I’ve learned is that Mormons generally walk away from their missions with a really bad taste in their mouth from Evangelicals.  Any hope we might have of bringing them into one of our churches after their mission is pretty slim, particularly if they were sent to the Bible Belt.  They’ve just spent 2 years having doors slammed in their face, being yelled at, having rocks thrown at them, and being told they are on their way to hell as a means of introduction, all in the name of Jesus.  For many good reasons, they view Evangelicals as “the enemy” (among the reasons the fact that we view them as “the enemy” as well).

Many people suggest a number of theological talking points to emphasize when speaking to Mormons.  Some suggest you educate them on all the things they don’t know about Mormonism. Others suggest making life a miserable as possible for them so as to discourage them from further service.  Still others hope for missionaries willing enough to sit through an hour long video about the lack of credibility found in “The Book of Abraham”.

I’ve got a different idea than all of those and I think you’re more likely to successfully finish my plan more than any other; plus I can teach you everything you need to know in just 5 minutes.

Step 1 – The Introduction

Answer the door, smile politely and say “I would LOVE to talk with you more about faith, but I’ve found that it’s really difficult to find meaningful conversation with strangers.  Would you like to come back on a different night and have dinner?  We could just get to know each other a little bit first and then on another night we could meet up again to talk about each other’s faith.”

I’d be VERY surprised if Mormon missionaries didn’t take you up on this.  You’re offering a home cooked meal and two separate appointments. They have nothing more important to do than meet with non-Mormons in their own homes.

Step 2 – The Dinner

Have dinner with them. Remember they don’t consume caffeine or alcohol.  Pass on it yourself for the evening out of respect. Do NOT talk about theology.  Share all about your life.  Include where you’re originally from, where you went to school, your hobbies, what sports teams you root for, etc.  Make sure to ask them for all of the same info.  You’re likely to find you have a lot in common.  That’s good.   If possible, pry their first names out of them. Don’t be too pushy, they’re “technically” not supposed to use them.  But gently chide them about both of them not really being born with the first name “Elder”.  It’s unimportant to learn their first names, but it’s a nice bonus.  See if they want to play a board game (If they take you up on video games they’re breaking the rules. They’ll have fun, but feel guilty later).

Let them know at some point in the evening know that your phone and internet access are available to them if they’d like to contact somebody back home. They will decline, but make sure they know that they can return any time in the future to use either one.

Make sure to set up a time for your next meeting and assure them you’ll let them talk all about the Mormon faith.

Step 3 – The Testimony Meeting

In preparation for the missionaries coming over, set out some extra toiletries for them to take home. They’re living off of something like $1.25 a day (at their own expense).  They would love extra shampoo and toothpaste and it’s likely you’ve got some extra stored up in your pantry already.

Feel free to pray with them if you or they want to open in prayer.  Doctrinally speaking, you are safe to pray with anyone and everyone who wants to pray with you.  Jesus is never angry that people are praying to him, no matter who they are.  If you’re uncomfortable with it, respectfully pass.

Ask the missionaries to share with you their testimonies.  In Mormon ears this is something akin to someone asking you “Could you tell me about the four spiritual laws?”  They will LOVE this opportunity to tell you about how they became Mormons and what it means to their lives.

Listen respectfully.  Don’t interrupt; you’ll get your chance to talk soon.

When they’re finished, ask if you could share your own testimony.  This is your own story of what Jesus has done for you, so I’m not going to tell you how to script it.  Your story is more powerful than anything I could tell you to say.  One caveat, if you’ve experienced miracles, talk about those miracles (and I don’t mean “I-found-my-keys” kind of miracles, I mean genuine healings and things ONLY explained by the Holy Spirit).

Close in prayer and thank them for coming over.  Again, let them know your phone and internet access are available if they need to contact someone back home (don’t be pushy or creepy about it).  If you’re really interested in studying up on Mormonism and talking more with them that’s totally up to you.

If this is all you do, you’ve just given those young men (or women) an oasis experience amidst a very difficult two years.  They WILL remember your kindness and hospitality and they will remember that it was someone desperately in love with Jesus who gave it to them.  I guarantee this approach will open doors that have previously been sealed shut for other Evangelicals who do know a lot about Mormonism.

That’s it! You’ve now learned everything you need to know about handling Mormons at your door and it didn’t take me three month to teach it to you. I hope you get the chance to try it out.

The post is a part of a collection of posts by other Evangelicals who have different ideas for what you should do.  I recommend you read what Jack at Clobber Blog and Aaron at Mormon Coffee have to say.  Gloria also wrote a similar post.

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183 thoughts on “Witnessing to Mormon Missionaries

  1. I like what you say, but I would be surprised if the Elders actually accepted the offer. I doubt they would agree to a meeting without discussing theology and the church, so the first appointment would not likely not work.

    Now, I will also say that many would find the whole thing very uncomfortable, especially with the subtle temptations to violate their mission covenants. It is all very kindly set up, but just reading it seems like a trap, and I think most would see it as such, and thus it would not work.

    Oh, and on the preparation thing, they don’t do that anymore (unless they are learning a foreign language). The pre-set discussions have been done away with, and they are counseled to speak only as the spirit directs them. They spend only a few weeks in preparation for the life style they will live in those two years, including the taditions and such of the area they will serve.

  2. Tim: excellent post. What I like about your approach is that it is actually…wait for it…Christ-like. You’ve written elsewhere that a big mistake Evangelicals make is to focus on pushing Mormons out of Mormonism only to have them leave religion altogether—no converts won for Christ in that scenario. (For an excellent example of such an unproductive approach, see Aaron’s post.)

  3. My experience with committed Evangelical Christians has largely been positive. I would have accepted such an appointment, and as a Mormon missionary, I did. Generally, they were nice exchanges. We even took invitations to attend one or two Bible Study groups, and in one instance volunteered to lead the group in a chapter from one of the Gospels or Acts; I can’t remember precisely which.

    The EV’s called us the day of that appointment to cancel. Pity; we knew them well enough to touch on common elements and not try to upset applecarts by passing out the Book of Mormon or anything like that.

    These days Mormon missionaries get about two weeks of preparation, and might spend a week or so taking calls in a call center. If they’re learning a language, they spend nine weeks. And, yeah, the set lessons are gone, in favor of a body of material which they cover in any order and at any speed.

    Finally, I’d recommend not trying to offer them opportunities to break even the smallest mission rule. If you know the rules and they know you know them, such an offer will diminish their respect for your integrity.

    For what it’s worth, they have permission to use the Internet on a limited basis to write letters and emails, and send pictures home. And they’ve made a commitment to follow those rules. Honor their integrity by not inviting them to break their commitments.

  4. Pingback: Mormon Coffee » Making the Most of Mormon Missionary Visits

  5. I had specific reasons for recommending Evangelicals offer missionaries the opportunity to break those specific rules and think the reasoning justifies the “risk”.

    Brian, I understand that Aaron is going to have to work uphill with most Mormons who know him, but I think his approach was pretty good. He didn’t recommend offering anything destructive that didn’t come straight out of the Bible. That’s a good step to making sure you’re not leading someone to atheism.

  6. No way; offering a chance to call home is fantastic, even if they don’t take you up on it. It’s not the same thing as giving them a beer. Offer a bit of human warmth and a chance to contact their families outside of the authoritarian and cultlike control of the mission organization. It won’t be offensive as long as you are not pushy about it, but it will be a subtle and positive reminder that the Mission President actually does not control their lives.

    Even once they’ve told you what their rules are, I think it is important to make it clear (again by your actions not by lecturing, and definitely not in a way that is pushy) that the LDS Church does not get to say what happens in your home. Your home can be a haven for the missionaries.

  7. I can’t say I have any objections to anything Tim has said here, and if one of my kids were on a mission in Tim’s neighborhood I’d make sure he/she’d look him up.

    That said, after not too long in the mission field, missionaries become pretty good about spotting phonies (I am not suggesting that Tim is one). If you do something like this with an arrogant attitude — “I need to show these Mormon punks who really knows the truth” — you’ll get nowhere except perhaps with the poor kid who hasn’t figured out yet why he’s on a mission (and there are some of them), and maybe not even with him.

    There’s a certain irony in what I’m saying (and I think Tim would agree): If you want the best chance of getting someone to see your point of view, and perhaps even to adopt it, you need to be open to the possibility that you may be wrong and that the other person may have something of value to share with you. You can’t approach the person as a superior (as tempting as it may be with a 19-year-old) but should approach him/her as a fellow learner.

    To the missionary, I’d say much the same thing.

  8. I know FOR SURE I would have taken you up on this. Plus, there’s a whole part in the “commitment pattern” that’s called “Building Relationships of Trust.” They could totally count it as a BRT meeting. (I know I would’ve.)

    I had specific reasons for recommending Evangelicals offer missionaries the opportunity to break those specific rules and think the reasoning justifies the “risk”.

    Would mind sharing what those reasons were? Does it have to do with Kullervo’s comment?

  9. Tim: Aaron’s approach is entirely destructive. That’s his whole motive. He does not care about Mormons except that their church fails. Just because he wields the Bible doesn’t excuse his actions—he could just as well clobber Mormon missionaries in the face with the Bible. I don’t care that he’s quoting the Bible or what he’s quoting in it: the result is to offend and alienate another person; i.e., jerk-store.

  10. Kullervo

    That is the attitude I spoke of when I said it sounded like a trap. You appear to be kind and warm on the surface, but, as Rob said, if they know that you know the rules of the Mission Field and you still encourage them to break it, this warm surface will soon look like a wolf in sheeps clothing to them, and you will have done the exact opposite than what you planned.

    One thing that I noticed different about most LDS and most other Christians. It really seems that other Christians try to subtley tempt you out of your beliefs and covenants, while the LDS seem more likely to respect your beliefs and help you keep your covenants.
    No, the Mission President is not in control of the Elders’ lives, but the Elders made a promise to God that they would act in a certain way, and any temptation on anyones part to get them to break that promise is dishonest. Read in Judges 11 the story of Jephthah, , who made a rash covenant with God and ended up sacrificing his own daughter on the altar. It is the only human sacrifice that is not condemned in the Bible, for he made the promise and he had to fulfill it, and even his daughter made no resistance. In the same way the Elders have made their covenants, and they must keep them, and no righteous man would tempt them to break those covenants.

  11. There are reasons that Aaron’s approach and mine are different. That being said, I don’t fault him at all for wanting to destroy what Joseph Smith has added on top of Christianity in the manner he is suggesting (with some caveats). It’s essential to the core of his message, just as it’s essential for a Mormon missionary to destroy a Christian’s confidence in a complete gospel and priesthood.

    Every LDS missionary I’ve met, without exception, has attempted to introduce doubt and insecurity into my faith in hopes of replacing my faith with their own. Why is it okay for you to have done this on your mission, but not okay for Aaron to do it in his?

  12. I was in a public square in Basel 20 years ago, doing street display work with about seven other missionaries.

    One man approached us and had a pleasant conversation with one of the missionaries (not me). After exchanging cards (at the time we all carried cards with home address and sometimes phone number) this guy whips out his pocket phone dials the missionary’s mother and hands him the phone.

    (This was 1989; the phones were about twice the size of your fist.)

    Of course, the only courteous thing to do with someone else’s $4.00/minute is to say hello to your own mother.

  13. Tim, you’ve really had every single missionary try to make you doubt your faith in Christ? I am really sorry that you’ve had such bum luck with missionaries!

    I served my mission in California. One of the great principles I learned beforehand was that it never works to burn someone’s ladder and then offer to give them a new one. We always taught Christians that Mormonism will build upon their faith in Christ and help them come closer to the Lord, not further away. That approach seemed to work very well.

    If I had met you, I would have gladly taken the offer for dinner. I would have shared with you my first name, but pointed out that, while serving a mission, I don’t use it. And as to the offer to use the phone or internet, I would have thanked you for the offer and left it at that.

    As Katie L said, Building Relationships of Trust are key to missionary work. But the relationship goes both way. The missionaries need to know that they can trust you to be sincere as much as they want you to trust them to be the same.

  14. Missionaries almost never build real relationships of trust though. The whole program is aimed at getting the investigator to trust the missionary without actually building such a relationship. Preferably in as short if a time span as possible. In a lot of ways the biggest problem with the Mormon missionary program is that it is poisoned with a total lack of genuineness in interpersonal interactions at virtually every level.

    Want to really connect with missionaries? You’ve got to figure outa way to cut through all of that and really communicate with them as an individual human being.

  15. Tim, you’ve really had every single missionary try to make you doubt your faith in Christ?

    Read what I said again:
    it’s essential for a Mormon missionary to destroy a Christian’s confidence in a complete gospel and priesthood. I didn’t say they wanted be to doubt my faith in Christ, but they most certainly wanted me to doubt my Faith.

  16. For all the talk about just wanting to add to what the investigator believes, the missionary is there to convert you to Mormonism, away from your current religion.

    Talk about building on common beliefs and adding further truths to what you already have is a rhetorical tool aimed solely at conversion and baptism. Do not conflate the rhetoric with the goal, even if your missionaries do.

  17. “Every LDS missionary I’ve met, without exception, has attempted to introduce doubt and insecurity into my faith in hopes of replacing my faith with their own. Why is it okay for you to have done this on your mission, but not okay for Aaron to do it in his?”

    1) Did I do this on my mission?

    2) Even if I I did, two wrongs = right?

    3) Is that really what Aaron tries to do? I am not at all convinced that Aaron cares one bit about Mormons; he just wants the Mormon Church to fail.

    4) “it’s essential for a Mormon missionary to destroy a Christian’s confidence in a complete gospel and priesthood.” Consequence versus focus. And let’s remember what your focus is:

    They WILL remember your kindness and hospitality and they will remember that it was someone desperately in love with Jesus who gave it to them.

  18. I think Aaron’s sincere focus is to introduce people to saving faith in Jesus. I think Aaron views a consequence of his evangelism to be the downfall of the LDS church. What you’re implying is that you don’t trust his motivations to be authentically good or Christ-centered. Neither of us are in a position to judge his heart, only his speech and actions. Perhaps he’s given you reason through his speech and actions to doubt that. But as far as I can tell from my own conversations with him, Aaron and I have a methodological disagreement. Our motivations are the same. If anything I think Aaron has a much bigger heart for Jesus, Mormons and the people of Utah than I do. If he was just after the downfall of the church, I suspect his talking points would be much more similar to Richard Packham, Bob McCue, Steve Benson or even John Dehlin.

    In regard to what he’s recommending other Evangelicals do when Mormons come to their door, I don’t see it as any different as what the Mormons are doing when they come to the Evangelical’s door. If you think the people on both sides of the door are wrong, say so, and we can have a completely different conversation about that.

  19. Kullervo

    I didn’t know that, but it doesn’t change anything that I said. If you know the rules, and you know that these young men and woman have made those covenants, for you to try and get them to break that is wrong. Now, for a person who does not really understand the concept of the mission for LDS I would really have no problem with the offer. But I still say that if you do understand all of this and you still make the offer you make yourself out to be a wolf is sheeps clothing more than a kind person, for you are not respecting others beliefs, only your own.

    Now, as to destoying confidence in Faith, I would like to know how they do that, because I have not seen it. Of course, you may mean something that I would never associate with destroying confidence, and that is why I ask.

    However, the tactics of Aaron, and others like him, are specificly geared to attack another religion. I think Brian is right. People like this are not out to save mormons, they do not care if mormons join the rest of Christianity. Their goal is simply to destroy the LDS church, and if they have to destroy the members to do it they will. They would rather see all mormons burn in hell than take the time to bring one to heaven.

  20. Tim said:

    If he was just after the downfall of the church, I suspect his talking points would be much more similar to … John Dehlin.

    An intriguing comment. Could you explain? Thanks.

  21. I didn’t know that, but it doesn’t change anything that I said. If you know the rules, and you know that these young men and woman have made those covenants, for you to try and get them to break that is wrong.

    Why is that wrong?

    But I still say that if you do understand all of this and you still make the offer you make yourself out to be a wolf is sheeps clothing more than a kind person, for you are not respecting others beliefs, only your own.

    Or perhaps, that you respect the person as a human being not necessarily their religion? Why should I play along with rules that I think are actually coercive and unethical? Shouldn’t my respect for the missionary as a human being move me to offer them humanity and shun the things that dehumanize them–like forced cut-off contact with family and loved ones?

    Being pushy after the missionary says no? Okay, that is disrespectful. But making your home a safe place for the missionary to be a human being? That might disrespect the Church, but I really don’t think it disrespects the missionary.

    Now, as to destoying confidence in Faith, I would like to know how they do that, because I have not seen it. Of course, you may mean something that I would never associate with destroying confidence, and that is why I ask.

    However, the tactics of Aaron, and others like him, are specificly geared to attack another religion.

    Mormons are trying to get people to leave their own religion and join Mormonism. Don’t play respectful-of-other-peoples’-beliefs, because as an aggressively proselytizing church, the Mormons certainly aren’t.

    The blade cuts both ways.

    People like this are not out to save mormons, they do not care if mormons join the rest of Christianity. Their goal is simply to destroy the LDS church, and if they have to destroy the members to do it they will. They would rather see all mormons burn in hell than take the time to bring one to heaven.

    That’s some super-lame siege mentality. The Church would love to have you believe that crap, because it ensures that you will never give an honest ear to the millions of other viewpoints out there.

  22. Now, for a person who does not really understand the concept of the mission for LDS I would really have no problem with the offer. But I still say that if you do understand all of this and you still make the offer you make yourself out to be a wolf is sheeps clothing more than a kind person, for you are not respecting others beliefs, only your own.

    It is never wrong to offer kindness.

    I fully understand the mission of the LDS church and its missionary program. It is with that knowledge that I think Evangelicals should offer use of their phones in an appropriate manner.

    It is never wrong to offer another man a cool cup of water, even if he is thirsty for the sake of his gods. His gods may wish him to suffer and die, I do not. (pardon the melodramatic analogy)

  23. Eric,

    I assume that injecting more of John Dehlin’s “New Order Mormonism” would potentially serve as a long-term method of subverting the Mormon religion, because religious liberalism usually doesn’t survive many generations (notice the short life of stands of liberal Protestantism). However, I don’t think the principle of integrity or the gospel-call to repentance is compatible with this philosophy. Nor do I think it is very compassionate of all the lost Mormons who are affected by the institution and worldview in contemporary generations.

    Brian and shematwater, I’ll extend to you the same offer I make to other Mormons who hate my guts: If you’re ever in the SLC area let me take you out to lunch so we can talk.

    Grace and peace in Christ who justifies the ungodly like me by faith apart from works,

    Aaron

  24. Kullervo,

    Wow, you seem to be a very hostile person. You don’t seem to want to put any effort into understanding another persons feelings or beliefs.

    “Shouldn’t my respect for the missionary as a human being move me to offer them humanity and shun the things that dehumanize them–like forced cut-off contact with family and loved ones?”

    I never thought of the mission rules as “dehumanizing”, or that contact with family was “forcefully” cut-off. I do remember using my humanity in choosing to follow mission rules. I also remember frequent correspondence with my family and speaking with them twice annually. Honestly, the feeling of “separation” from home made the mission more appealing and adventurous for me.

    “Mormons are trying to get people to leave their own religion and join Mormonism. Don’t play respectful-of-other-peoples’-beliefs, because as an aggressively proselytizing church, the Mormons certainly aren’t.”

    Sorry, this is simply untrue. One can be perfectly respectful of another’s beliefs while sharing and advocating their own. The difference is in the method and approach.

  25. Hi, tim. Great post. I wrote up something on my blog about witnessing to Mormons recently too.

    I think your approach is kind & loving and definately respectful.

    With that said, I have one major issue with it… and this stems from my past with mormonism.. is that it smells of “the committment pattern”. Are you familiar with that? It’s a training program or pattern of prosletying that LDS missionaries learn in the MTC.

    I personally believe that a person should be welcoming to the LDS missionaries, but tell them honestly the truth. No building a relationship of trust, becuase I find this manipulative. You are not going to convert to their faith, so why not be honest but in a respectful & kind way?

    For example, last week some women from the local ward showed up. They had shown up here before, even though I requested “no contact” from the LDS church after my formal resignation. ( face it the LDS don’t take a rejection very well. :) The last time they came I was polite, and courteous. Made small talk, etc.

    This time, when I saw they arrived( they never call, make an appt, and show up whenever they please, frustrating to say the least) I was much bolder. I prayed before I went out to greet them. I was polite but firm. I witnessed to them that the grace of our Lord is what saves, and when they told me they believed the same, I told them it was not the same and explained “why” I believe so.

    I told them I knew why they were coming and it was not to just be “friends” but to reconvert .

    I disarmed them basically.

    They admitted their motives.

    For me personally, one can be kind, but honest. I couldn’t imagine having the missionaries over and hearing their teachings. I couldn’t do it, Tim. Been there and done that. If they are coming to my home, I would be polite, but definately tell the truth.

    I do the same with the JW’s.

    Truth with love.

    Just my .02,

    gloria

  26. Eric,

    In response to John Dehlin and the destruction of the church. . .

    Scenario 1: a Mormon missionary shows up at Steve Benson’s house. The missionary hears all about the Egyptian Papyri, Joseph Smith’s polyandry and the DNA of Native Americans in an effort to persuade them to leave the church and religion all together

    Scenario 2: a Mormon missionary shows up at Aaron’s house. The missionary hears all about Isaiah 43:10 and the inability of our works to save us in an effort to persuade them to leave the church.

    Scenario 3: a Mormon missionary shows up at John Dehlin’s house. The missionary hears all about the Egyptian Papyri, Joseph Smith’s polyandry and the DNA of Native Americans in an effort to persuade them to not leave the church.

    Whose talking points are much more like the ex-Mormon’s? Aaron’s or John’s?

  27. Wow, you seem to be a very hostile person. You don’t seem to want to put any effort into understanding another persons feelings or beliefs.

    What makes you think that’s why I’m in this discussion at all?

    I never thought of the mission rules as “dehumanizing”, or that contact with family was “forcefully” cut-off. I do remember using my humanity in choosing to follow mission rules. I also remember frequent correspondence with my family and speaking with them twice annually. Honestly, the feeling of “separation” from home made the mission more appealing and adventurous for me.

    Whatever head-games you had to play to stay sane, pal.

    Sorry, this is simply untrue. One can be perfectly respectful of another’s beliefs while sharing and advocating their own. The difference is in the method and approach.

    Semantics. In any case, shematwater is certainly demanding a double standard.

  28. Also, for the record, I generally think it’s hilarious when Mormons demand that other people put in time and effort to understand Mormons’ beliefs and feelings.

  29. “Whatever head-games you had to play to stay sane, pal.”

    Sorry, I just don’t get the beef here. There was no problem saying sane for me. Missionary life was fun. There was no part of my mission, with the exception of a few interesting characters I met along the way (fun stories), that was insane.

    I loved the mission and I’d do it again in a heartbeat…all of the people I met, loved and served…the friendships…the maturity I developed. Most importantly, I learned to better rely on the Savior…His love, mercy, and grace in our lives.

  30. Oh, man, you got me. By regurgitating the party line you have totally changed my mind.

    Seriously. Demonstrating how thoroughly you managed to brainwash yourself only makes me think I’m more right.

  31. Aaron: “Brian and shematwater, I’ll extend to you the same offer I make to other Mormons who hate my guts: If you’re ever in the SLC area let me take you out to lunch so we can talk.”

    The offer I wish you’d extend is to deal honestly with me and others…starting with not saying that I hate your guts.

    Tim: “What you’re implying is that you don’t trust his motivations to be authentically good or Christ-centered. Neither of us are in a position to judge his heart, only his speech and actions. Perhaps he’s given you reason through his speech and actions to doubt that.”

    Thank you for being open to the possibility that I am not judging Aaron’s heart, only his approach.

  32. Paul W:

    Kullervo, Wow, you seem to be a very hostile person.”

    Oh, good, you’ve met.

    “You don’t seem to want to put any effort into understanding another persons feelings or beliefs.”

    …but clearly still don’t know Kullervo well at all.

  33. gloria: I’ve disagreed with you many times, but I read your post and have to say that overall I agree with you: be honest and share your testimony/witness/experience with others.

  34. Yipe; I didn’t want to start a range war.

    Just make your invitations to the missionary Mormons sincere, out of a desire to serve them in Christ, and not to conspiratorially invite them to break their own rules.

    That’s all I’m getting at. The rest of it, with all y’all questioning the inner motives of one another, I have no stake in.

  35. Hey, brian… good to now we can agree on things from time to time. I totally believe in honest sincere feedback. Why beat around the bush, ya know? That is one thing I respect about the JW’s. They just come out and tell you why they are there. No beating around the bush. No friendly manipulative conversations, just “here we are to tell you what we think”. I personally can respect that.
    I may not agree, but I can respect it. Personally if someone is coming to my home, they are on “my turf” and I am going to be the one doing most the talking.

    Kind regards,
    Gloria

  36. “Oh, man, you got me. By regurgitating the party line you have totally changed my mind.

    Seriously. Demonstrating how thoroughly you managed to brainwash yourself only makes me think I’m more right.”

    Was not attempting to “get you” or change your mind (only express my own).

    Seriously. Demonstrating how thoroughly you manage to brainwash YOURSELF only makes ME think I’M more right. . .so there! (*Shrugs & rolls eyes).

    More seriously though, I may have “regurgitated” what you call the “party line”, but that is honestly and sincerely how I feel about it. . .no games. . .no thought exercises. . .I just had a good time. I know that not everyone does.

    Also, Mormons such as me, often see “ani-Mormons” (for lack of a better term) such as yourself, as repeating the same “party lines” repetitively. . .”brainwashed”. . .

    The empirical fact is that neither of us can empirically “prove” our position or faith to another. All faith is subjective and interpretive in nature.

  37. Tim and Aaron: Interesting comments on John Dehlin. I haven’t followed him closely enough to know a lot about where he’s coming from nor much about his motives. Based on what little I know, I have mixed thoughts about his approach; some things he has said I agree with, other things I don’t. And since I don’t know enough of the facts to make a judgment, I’ll just leave it at that.

  38. On the subject of the original blog post, I would say overall your approach is good. Treat “Mormon” missionaries just like you would anyone else in polite society. I think you should expect a free exchange of ideas and polite conversation.

    I would also say that most “Mormons” expect “witnessing” to be polite, Christ-like exchanges of belief and testimony. We enjoy teaching and being taught.

    However, I also think that you will turn people off if they feel like they are being trapped into some kind of contentious situation.

  39. Tim, you misunderstood which quote I was referencing. I was speaking of this one: “Every LDS missionary I’ve met, without exception, has attempted to introduce doubt and insecurity into my faith in hopes of replacing my faith with their own.”

    I do not argue that, in order for missionaries to have success with evangelicals, they need to “destroy a Christian’s confidence in a complete gospel and priesthood”. Our belief is that mainstream Christianity is not complete. So, obviously, we need to destroy your confidence that you are 100% right and we are 100% wrong.

    However, I would argue that most LDS missionaries understand that evangelicals believe in Jesus Christ. They know that you know He lives. They know you believe in God, and in the Bible as His Holy Word. There is absolutely no desire to “replace” your faith in Jesus Christ. The desire is to show you that your faith in incomplete. Not completely wrong, but not completely right, either. A kindergarten teacher teaches math in terms of counting and recognising patterns. A high school calculus teacher teaches in terms of differential equations. The high school teacher doesn’t teach higher math by destroying a basic concept of counting and patterns. But he does teach that math is more than just counting and patterns. Likewise with LDS missionaries who are teaching other Christians.

    Now, obviously, you, and many others, don’t agree, and if I had met you on my mission, I would have understood that, and, after having had a pleasant conversation or three (and a tasty meal), I would have wished you all the best and bid you adieu. I know that not all LDS missionaries are like this, but I can’t speak for what the 50,000 other men and women out there are doing. I can only speak for myself. And, speaking for myself, I really wish more evangelicals took your approach to witnessing to Mormons.

  40. Hi Gloria. I included a link to your post in my original post. Thanks for sharing it.

    For the record, I do inform Mormon missionaries that I have studied the church extensively and do not believe Joseph Smith to be who he says he is. I let them know that I’d be happy to share my thoughts on “why” but it’s up to them if they want to hear my objections.

    The point of this situation is absolutely to set up a commitment pattern between both parties. If things get nasty, a personal friendship and commonalities are important to keep things civil. The function of the third meeting is not to allow them to go into their lessons, but give them an equal forum to share their faith. Both parties are welcome to share any aspect of their faith as part of their testimony, so it for sure leaves room for the gospel to be shared.

  41. Hi, tim.

    Can I ask you then, have you had the LDS missionaries over and if you have, how did it go?

    Inquiring minds would like to now, if you are that is willing to share. :)

    Gloria

  42. Don’t rule it out! The Mormons might be right!

    I know it seems like crazy talk, but think about it.

    God calling prophets as he did in the past.
    Other records of scripture being brought out.
    Angels giving the original priesthood back to man.
    More doctrine and commandments from God are given.
    Crazy, excited missionaries spreading the word worldwide.

    I am just saying there might be something to this whole mormon thing.

    Their big General Conference is next weekend. You can watch it online. http://www.lds.org/broadcast/gc/

  43. Tim- I like your approach, as a missionary I ALWAYS welcomed an open discussion of other religious beliefs, I spent hours listening to what others believed, much to the chagrin of some of my companions. I have always felt that you have to be just as willing to listen to others if you are asking others to be willing to listen to you. At least in theory, head-to-head the truth should prevail in open, sincere hearts. True concern, caring and love will bring God and Jesus into the situation much more than an analytical debate of the strengths and shortcomings of the different theologies. Even if this approach does absolutely nothing to tear down the Mormon Church (an outcome I find extremely likely) it will open LDS eyes to the spirit of Christ that is alive and well in many of His Evangelical followers.

    As to whether Aaron’s approach (or some other approach) is “better”, I guess it really comes down to the person and the goal. I really think the goal of tearing down the LDS church with any of these methods is a bit naive but I think generally Aaron’s approach is more likely to create an experience that is whole lot more annoying to everybody involved.

    Shemwater - Missionaries are not under “covenant” to follow the mission rules. Making everything a “covenant” really dilutes what the real covenants are and what they mean. I can’t see how abetting missionaries in violating the mission rules is not “wrong” or “evil” in any way. This is not “temptation” to sin. How is it a sin to call your mother, when you want to? Breaking mission rules is like breaking the speed limit.

    Kullervo- I think its a bit over the top to label the mission lifestyle as “insane” or “dehumanizing” particularly since it is a voluntary submission for a specific period of time for a specific purpose. I was certainly able to have very deep human encounters on my mission and the rules helped make those happen as much as detracted. You should admit that you can be a “good soldier” supporting the SOP and chain of command without being brainwashed. That is not to deny that some soldiers are brainwashed, or even to deny that the soldier lifestyle tends toward some degree of brainwashing. I think the same should be said of mission rules.

    Also, the characterization you give of LDS missionary methods as impersonal, dishonest, manipulative techniques may not be untrue when applied to some missionaries, but the missionary approaches of those LDS that I am close to (close friends and family) generally seem to be very motivated by love, honesty and respect. I saw all kinds while I was a missionary so I am not willing to make any blanket statements, but it does seem to me that your characterizations are unfair when applied generally.

  44. I would humbly suggest this discussion not be about a post that Aaron did.

    Gloria,

    I knew plenty of missionaries who managed to be genuine despite the “commitment pattern.”

    And a little more charity from you in this regard might be in order.

    A lot of people have a very, very hard time relating to and talking to other people. Scripted conversations can be a good way for them to try and overcome this burden in their lives.

    Give em credit for trying. OK?

  45. Tim ~ Every LDS missionary I’ve met, without exception, has attempted to introduce doubt and insecurity into my faith in hopes of replacing my faith with their own.

    I wouldn’t say this has happened with every missionary I’ve met, but the missionaries whom I took the discussions with definitely tried to do this on a regular basis. Arguing that Protestant churches can’t be true because of the in-fighting and disagreement on doctrinal issues, showing me the LDS “proof-texts” in the Bible and being completely dismissive of any interpretation I offered that did not agree with the LDS view, trying to convince me that my Protestant baptism was invalid because it was not performed by “the proper authority,” etc. I was taking the missionary discussions at the home of an LDS friend who attended my high school and I remember she printed off a list of all the books which the Bible references which aren’t included in the Bible and gave them to me at one of the discussions and said, “See, look at all these books that the Bible is missing!” A clear attempt at undermining my faith in inerrancy.

    It’s why I don’t feel too guilty about recommending that evangelicals understand the issues which most commonly cause Mormons to lose faith and be prepared to use them if the occasion arises.

    BTW, Tim, I do really like your approach, especially asking LDS missionaries to share how they got a testimony of the Book of Mormon. What a beautiful gesture.

  46. Oh man, pWn! Just kidding.

    I’m not an anti-Mormon, Paul. My mission wasn’t all bad. A lot of things about it were awesome. And the fact that missionaries learn foreign languages, meet all kinds of people, see some random part of the world in what is honestly amazing depth, those are really cool things.

    But i’m not “spouting the anti-Mormon party line” by pointing out the things about Mormon missions that are honestly dysfunctional and destructive. Prohibiting contact with family and loved ones is red-flag-raising stuff. Very few organizations that are not dangerous cults do that.

    I think there’s a lot of insincerity in interpersonal communication involving missionaries (between missionaries, mission presidents, in letters, and particularly with investigators), and I think that the structure of the mission fosters that insincerity. Furthermore, the set-up of the mission enables a lot of really nasty authoritarian bullshit and ecclesiastical abuse. And even setting that stuff aside, missions can be just plain discouraging and depressing for a million different reasons.

    Because of that, showing genuine feeling for missionaries and treating them like human beings is a really good thing.

    You, on the other hand, are touting a version of the mission that is exactly what the Church would like people to say. And I think it’s so unrealistic that I am straight-up calling you a liar, or completely brainwashed.

  47. Hi, seth.

    Why would I give LDS missionaries and other representatives of the LDS faith credit? I mean, Seth I think you know me well enough to know that I believe they are preaching a false message. What should I give them credit for? Their door approach or their tie they are wearing?

    I believe in being polite. But remember seth, they are coming to “my” home and not vice versa.

    Why should I give credit to the local ward members who come to my home uninvited, to try to re-convert me to their church? Give credit to people who refuse to respect my choice to not be a Mormon anymore? How is that? Where I come from that is down right rude. And whatever happened to the LDS belief of “letting them worship, who, how or what they may?” Why don’t they practice what they preach?

    I can extend respect and not bother them, why can’t they do the same?

    Regards,
    Gloria

  48. Re what Kullervo said and related stuff:

    An awful lot depends on the mission president. The one my son had imposed very few rules beyond those required by the higher-ups and took various steps to help ensure that the mission would be a positive, spirituality-building experience. The president set a good example in his personal life, and by all accounts he did a good job of helping the missionaries deal with the problems that young adults in that environment can face. He also was reasonable in allowing my son to visit some relatives who lived in the mission district.

    I have personally known of cases where missionaries were allowed, due to various circumstances, to have considerable phone contact with family during the mission. I’ve known of two cases where a president made allowances for a missionary to maintain important skills (in one case athletic, in another case musical) while serving a mission. I have known several missionaries who were permitted to leave the mission for a period of time and return because of personal circumstances.

    On the other hand, as Kullervo suggests, the system appears to be set up in a way that ecclesiastical abuse can happen more easily than it should. One of the sad things is that young missionaries who grew up in particularly rigid families may not even recognize such abuse when they see it. I don’t know how often it happens, and I don’t think it’s the norm, but it does happen.

  49. I found I just tended to feel more homesick after calling home.

    So I was happy that it only had to be twice a year. I enjoyed the phone conversations. But the baggage I got left with at the end. I didn’t need that mojo.

    So it was cool with me.

    It’s not like I couldn’t write letters home – which seemed like plenty enough connection for me.

  50. You would be surprised that most of us Mormons just want to be friends. If you don’t want to believe as we do, that’s OK. Sometimes we get lulled into thinking others like us but then we really get our eyes opened when something comes up like last years Presidential Primaries when the vitriol came forth from the EVs, not that they would not vote for Mitt Romney, but that they would NEVER vote for a Mormon. Times like that lets me know y’all don’t like us very much.
    All these methods you’ve mentioned are interesting, but you know what almost convinces me that we are an evil people is when some of your co-religionists stand on the sidewalk with slanderous signs when we attend the Easter Pageant in Mesa, Arizona or General Conference in Salt Lake and screaming that we are going to hell. That really makes me want to be a “born again christian”.

  51. Glen ~ we really get our eyes opened when something comes up like last years Presidential Primaries when the vitriol came forth from the EVs, not that they would not vote for Mitt Romney, but that they would NEVER vote for a Mormon. Times like that lets me know y’all don’t like us very much.

    This may interest you: http://www.EvangelicalsForMitt.org

    when some of your co-religionists stand on the sidewalk with slanderous signs when we attend the Easter Pageant in Mesa, Arizona or General Conference in Salt Lake and screaming that we are going to hell. That really makes me want to be a “born again christian”.

    That’s a cheap shot, Glen. Nobody here endorses the creeps who treat Mormons like crap anymore than you endorse the fundamentalist nuts in Colorado City who force teenage girls into polygamy and run teenage boys out of town.

  52. Jack said:

    Nobody here endorses the creeps who treat Mormons like crap anymore than you endorse the fundamentalist nuts in Colorado City who force teenage girls into polygamy and run teenage boys out of town.

    Amen. And furthermore, the vast majority of evangelicals, even those who think we’re a cult, wouldn’t endorse such behavior either.

    Jack also said in describing her experience with misisionaries when she was a teenager:

    Arguing that Protestant churches can’t be true because of the in-fighting and disagreement on doctrinal issues, showing me the LDS “proof-texts” in the Bible and being completely dismissive of any interpretation I offered that did not agree with the LDS view, trying to convince me that my Protestant baptism was invalid because it was not performed by “the proper authority,” etc. I was taking the missionary discussions at the home of an LDS friend who attended my high school and I remember she printed off a list of all the books which the Bible references which aren’t included in the Bible and gave them to me at one of the discussions and said, “See, look at all these books that the Bible is missing!” A clear attempt at undermining my faith in inerrancy.

    My experiences with missionaries before I joined the Church was mostly positive, and not like that at all.

    One reason is that at the beginning I had a very good missionary who was sincerely interested in where I was coming from, and he was secure enough in himself and his beliefs to know that whatever I decided would say nothing about him as a missionary. So he really was content to spend more time listening than talking. He knew that true conversion comes through the Holy Spirit, not human persuasion.

    Another reason, perhaps, is that I was probably intimidating a bit (which in normal circumstances I’m not), partly because I was significantly older and partly because I had done my homework (including extensive Bible reading and study since before the missionaries were born) before ever talking to them.

    And for those who naively believed that anyone who prays will always get an instant answer, and the right one at that, I told them in so many words that that was a bunch of poppycock. There were (and are) so many logical leaps that had to be made for that to be a valid approach to knowing whether to join a church that it made (and makes) no sense, and I told them that. And I said that that asking if I’d want to be baptized (i.e., making a major life change) after two discussions is presumptuous.

    There were a few here and there who didn’t know what to do at first when off the script, so to speak. But with only a couple of exceptions (one of whose faith actually seemed a bit shaken at the prospect of someone who didn’t get the instant answer as expected, and whose only explanation was that I must not have been sincere), the missionaries I talked to over the course of a year-plus were a fine group of young men who, when challenged to be genuine in discussing matters of faith, stood up to the task well. I agree with Kullervo to the extent that the setup often doesn’t do a good job of fostering sincerity.

    If you can use an approach like Tim’s to foster genuine spirit of learning, of encouraging authenticity, I say go for it. But go about it in a manipulative manner, and you won’t be of much help to anybody.

  53. Kullervo

    I never gave a double standard. I think all men should respect the beliefs and desires of others, and support them in fulfilling those desires, as long as they are good. Thus, when a Chatholic friend desides to give up cellphones for lent I will refrain from calling them during that time. When I visit an Amish community I will not bring my gameboy, and I will park my car on the edge of town and walk among them. This is what they believe, and though I will always teach what I believe, I will not provide the temptatio for others to violate their faith and covenants.
    As to your separating the person from the religion, this is impossible. If a person is separate from their religion than they have no religion. You cannot treat me as a human while ignoring the fact that I am LDS. If you are disrespectful to what I believe you are disrespectful to me, and to all those who believe it. You can disagree all you want, but you cannot separate the person from his beliefs.

    Aaron
    I did say some things that I shouldn’t have said. I do enjoy talking with you online, and I know you are a desent guy. I think what I said applies more to others I have met than to you.

    Jared
    Yes Missionaries do make covenants to keep the rules of the mission field. They have been set appart for that calling, ordained to be missionaries, an d thus a covenant was made. When I was ordained a deacon I made a covenant with God to fulfill the duties of that calling, and in return he would bless me with his spirit and the power to do so. I made similar covenants when I was ordained a Teacher and a priest. I made covenants at baptism. Every ordinance in the Gospel is a covenant between God and the person receiving the ordinance. Thus, when a young man or woman becomes a missionary for God through the ordination and setting appart for that calling they have made the covenant to abide by the rules set forth by the gerneral Authorities and their mission presidents. Thus, to temt them to break those rules is tempting them to break the covenants made.

  54. Yes Missionaries do make covenants to keep the rules of the mission field. They have been set appart for that calling, ordained to be missionaries, an d thus a covenant was made. When I was ordained a deacon I made a covenant with God to fulfill the duties of that calling, and in return he would bless me with his spirit and the power to do so. I made similar covenants when I was ordained a Teacher and a priest. I made covenants at baptism. Every ordinance in the Gospel is a covenant between God and the person receiving the ordinance.

    Not really. In fact, I was thinking about this lately, because I don’t ever remember specifically “agreeing” to anything when I was ordained as a missionary or baptized. If there was such an agreement, it was implied–and it was NEVER laid out for me specifically.

    Contrast that to the temple, where you proactively say “yes” to certain specific things. They don’t do that with other ordinances…at least not the ones I’ve participated in.

  55. Katie

    Yes, it is implied, just as with the Baptism. However, the covenant is made in the interviews that prepare one for such things. One is not Baptized without first being interviewed by the Elders to make sure they understand what they are doing and the covenants they are making (or at least should be). The same is true with missionaries. They are interviewed by their Bishop and their Stake President, at which time these things should be understood. After ones mission they are again interviewed to see how well they kept this covenant.
    Covenants are not always spelled out in the ordinance itself. They are in the temple because those odinances and covenants are not openly discussed outside of that setting. However, Baptism, ordinations, and setting appart are openly discussed and thus the need of putting the full meaning of the covenant is not necessary.

  56. Shemawater-
    “However, the covenant is made in the interviews that prepare one for such things.”

    I think this view of “covenant” is inflationary and pharisaic and is not supported by Mormon scripture or even Conference talks. Your view makes nearly everything that goes on in the church as a covenant responsibility, which is simply not true.

  57. I tend to agree with Katie and Jared about that, though I wouldn’t have put it the way Jared did.

  58. Eric ~ Pretty much everything you said in your last comment, that’s why I like you.

    For the record, the missionaries did spring the baptism question on me at discussion 3, even though I had repeatedly stated that I had no interest in joining the church. I think they just weren’t expecting a teenage girl to be so stubborn and assertive. Had all this happened when I was the age you were, perhaps I would have been better at laying down boundaries and preventing some of the silliness before it happened.

    I blogged about the missionary discussions back in January, here and here.

    Katie ~ Obviously I’ve never been ordained to nothin’.

    Wanna get ordained in the Universal Life Church with me?

  59. Jared

    That is exactly right. Yes, the Baptism is a covenant between the person and God, and this is spoken of many times by the General Authorities and is in many manuels and other literature. It is a covenant. This covenant is renewed, or made again, every time we partake of the sacrement.
    Every time we accept a calling from God we are making a covenant to fulfill that calling. A Sunday school teacher is making a covenant to fulfill the calling of teaching. A Quorum President is making the covenant to act as President. God works through Covenants. When we are called it is through a covenant.
    Evangelicals speak of giving their lives to wholly Christ, and that is what I am speaking of. Does this make covenants any less sacred, no. Only more common. A covenant is a binding contract, and in the course of our lives we may enter into dozens of them with God, both through callings and personal desires.
    If something is not made through a covenant than it is not binding. Thus, if one is called to be a missionary but makes no covenant there is nothing bind him to the service, nor binding God to bless him if he fulfills the service.

  60. Funny how the conversation is bouncing back and forth between here and Jack’s blog, yet there has been very little discussion on Aaron’s…

    Anyhow, just because Eric decided to take a cheap shot at me (or, at least, that’s how it appears when you follow his link), I have NEVER stated that I believe in “bat-phone to God/instant revelation/instant answers” theory. In fact, I have stated quite clearly before that I believe THAT notion is poppycock. But I do believe that sincere study and prayer will produce sincere answers. I don’t know what those answers will be, nor do I know why they are what they are, but I do believe in them.

    And I really like how Tim’s method here allows for individuals to learn more about why other people feel the way they do. I love the idea of not just witnessing to Mormons, but allowing them to witness to you. Although, really, I can’t say I’d expect anything less from the guy who blogs about conversations between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals.

  61. shematwater:

    Please distinguish between the following words as they apply to your view of LDS doctrine (if, in fact, there is any meaningful distinction):

    covenant
    promise
    commitment
    contract
    agreement

  62. As to your separating the person from the religion, this is impossible. If a person is separate from their religion than they have no religion. You cannot treat me as a human while ignoring the fact that I am LDS. If you are disrespectful to what I believe you are disrespectful to me, and to all those who believe it. You can disagree all you want, but you cannot separate the person from his beliefs.

    I’m not talking about separating “the person” from their beliefs. I’m talking about respecting the person as a human being even if I do not respect the person as a member of their religion.

    Let’s say your religion requires you to be a sex slave, wear a dog chain, eat slop, live in a doghouse, and eat your master’s feces. And lets say your religion requires you to reject any treatment more positive than that because you are unworthy of it.

    When I offer you a cool glass of water, a sandwich, and a place to take a shower and sleep in a real bed for a few days, I am being profoundly disrespectful to your religion and to your beliefs. I am disrespecting you as a member and believer of that religion.

    However, almost everyone in the world would agree that your religion demeans and dehumanizes you. By offering you a way out, and some decent treatment, by attempting to treat you as a real human being of worth, I am respecting your humanity, respecting you as a human being.

    This is because by demeaning and dehumanizing you, your beliefs and your religion are in conflict with your humanity I can be respectful of you in the one sense by disrespecting you in another sense.

    Because in this case, your hypothetical horrible religion can’t morally be respected, I actually should not respect you-as-a-member-of-your-horrible-religion.

  63. Shemawater- your view of religion is far more legalistic than Mormon Doctrine calls for. I think we can easily argue that we make covenants to follow the Spirit of God rather than the direction of our leaders, which can lead us away from the guidelines often put forth by manuals, etc.

    But you seem to be making following the Gospel into some sort of complex legalistic mechanism. That ain’t what Jesus taught.

    If you have any reference to a conference talk or scripture that describes things this way I may be willing to concede something. Otherwise I just think you are imposing your own view on the whole thing. This is fine with me, I do that all the time, but I openly admit that I am a heretic. Do you think that your view is common within the church? Did Joseph Smith teach this? Did any president of the Church?

  64. Kullervo- man, I can only guess that you must have had some tough times on your mission. ;-)

    I do agree that sending someone on a mission to Finland might be considered inhuman. (asking someone to learn Finnish in two years while attempting to convert liberal Lutheran Finns fits within some definitions of cruel and unusual punishment)

    But my mission to LA county (Arcadia Mission) was a blast. . .but I didn’t always get up on time either. What Tim offers was no more than what most Members or investigators offered me as a missionary.

  65. “Let’s say your religion requires you to be a sex slave, wear a dog chain, eat slop, live in a doghouse, and eat your master’s feces.”

    For the record: my mission president never required that we wear a dog chain.

  66. Kiss my butt Kullervo.

    Not all of us are born with your winning personality.

    It was meant as a judgment of the mission experience, not as a judgment of you personally. I experienced the same things.

    I realize I am going to get nowhere with this because the appropriateness and rightness of the mission experience is pretty deeply ingrained and normalized in Mormon culture, but I’m going to try anyway.

    The thing is, people have been able to go away from home and do stuff without being crippled by contact with home. They do it all the time. Even in Basic Training, you can call home a decent amount. You might get homesick, but not so much that you can’t do your job.

    If you are doing a job that requires you to cut off normal human contact in order to be able to function properly, then there is either something seriously wrong with the nature of the job, or else you are committing to a job that is much more demanding than you are actually ready to undertake. In other words, if what you are doing requires you to make huge sacrifices that are not directly related to the job at hand, maybe you need to be a hell of a lot more certain before you make that kind of commitment–and maybe the church needs to make sure people are a hell of a lot more ready before they let them make that kind of commitment.

    And even then, if its simply a matter of unwanted distraction, then why does it need to be a rule? Won’t the truly committed do what needs to be done and get rid of unnecessary distractions on their own, without being commanded?

    Or maybe it isn’t a job at all, because its a cult. Seriously, disallowing or limiting contact with family and loved ones is a red-flag-raiser on the “ZOMG THIS IS A CULT” checklist.

  67. Kullervo,

    I was perfectly fine with the amount of contact I had with my family. And since talking to them just left me feeling depressed for the rest of the day, a limited amount was actually just fine.

    To this, you responded that I must have been a pretty emotionally screwed up guy.

    And you got my response.

  68. And I think you all are forgetting that for most of human history, people didn’t have the ability to talk to each other instantaneously across the ocean – and for reasonable prices, and with convenience.

    Seriously Kullervo –

    How quickly society just “owes” you something that didn’t even exist until the last 50 years.

    We need to revisit Maslow’s five fundamental needs I guess.

    Food, shelter, and safety, and after that “regular phone calls.”

    What next?

    Soon the Church might even be calling for an end to text messaging in Sacrament Meeting.

    Will the horror ever end?

  69. Shemawater, I started to compose a response, but then realized I was way too tired for this conversation right now. Maybe tomorrow.

    Jack, I would TOTALLY get ordained to the Universal Life Church with you!! (If it doesn’t cost a lot…and if you weren’t just joking…because if you were joking, so am I. But if you’re not…) ;)

    What exactly is the point of not allowing missionaries to call home on a more regular basis?

    I always understood it was as Kullervo said, so you don’t get “distracted.”

    Kullervo, you kinda have a point. Of course, you’re talking to someone who convinced herself on my mission that she loved it only to come home and realize she actually hated just about every minute of it. Except P-day. And a couple of 3-week stints with some really great companions.

  70. There’s a huge difference between no contact because it is impossible or impractical, and a rule mandating no contact where contact is possible and practical. A giant enormous difference.

    The issue is not the objective lack of contact. The issues are the rule that mandates no contact, and the justification you have given (and the Church gives) for the rule.

    I was perfectly fine with the amount of contact I had with my family. And since talking to them just left me feeling depressed for the rest of the day, a limited amount was actually just fine.

    To this, you responded that I must have been a pretty emotionally screwed up guy.

    No I didn’t. I said if talking left you feeling emotionally screwed up then maybe you were not on a mission as voluntarily as you liked to think.

  71. Either way Kullervo, I think people will survive.

    I think it’s an indication of how addicted we’ve become to technological additions to our lives that we view them now as so “essential.”

    Cry me a river.

  72. I always understood it was as Kullervo said, so you don’t get “distracted.”

    Exactly. But that’s total crap. If Army Rangers can call home and still be among the world’s most elite infantry soldiers, missionaries should be able to call home and still knock on doors.

    Unless there is some problem about the nature of what they are doing or the voluntariness of them being there makes it so that calling home would leave them feeling too horrible to do their job. And if so, I have to ask what and why.

    If it was just a personal thing, then the individual should be able to make the choice. And it would be an easy choice. If calling home too much made it hard for them to do their job, and they really wanted to do their job, they wouldn’t call home that often. If calling home reminded them that they f*cking hated their job and wanted to go home, then they should go home. But there’s no need to make it a rule and bring down the force of ecclesiastical coercion.

    Furthermore, Seth, I put it to you that if you had called home more often, you wouldn’t have felt as f*cked up about it afterward.

  73. Either way Kullervo, I think people will survive.

    I think it’s an indication of how addicted we’ve become to technological additions to our lives that we view them now as so “essential.”

    Cry me a river.

    Cut the strawman bullshit Seth. You know that’s not what I’m saying.

  74. Katie ~ Jack, I would TOTALLY get ordained to the Universal Life Church with you!! (If it doesn’t cost a lot…and if you weren’t just joking…because if you were joking, so am I. But if you’re not…)

    It’s absolutely free.

    As for the joking part… well, I would like to do it. But there’s something about me randomly seeking membership in gimmick churches that my husband dislikes and he would rather I didn’t.

    Otherwise I would totally do it. :(

  75. Jack, I was going to dig out my old white handbook for the missionaries to see what it said about contact with family, but I realised it is buried in the bottom of one of our closets, and I’m not even quite certain which closet.

    But I think the general idea was that it is all a part of helping missionaries to stay focused on the task at hand. This rule can be seen as being akin to the Word of Wisdom which, as it says in the very beginning, is given for the “weakest of all saints”. The rule helps avoid the problems of homesickness that can affect anyone, not matter how much they want to be somewhere doing something.

    And as much as Kullervo seems to enjoy mocking people who suffer from homesickness, I can attest that the isolation actually helps. One of my many jobs is working as a drug prevention specialist, and in the course of work I do in the summer, I have had the opportunity to be trained on dealing with homesickness. It turns out that when someone is not constantly exposed to family and friends from home (such as through phone and other personal contact) they are way more capable of avoiding homesickness than otherwise.

    So yeah, the rule does make sense, as one that is meant to help the weakest of all saints. (Shocking, I know. Latter-day Saints have weaknesses! Oh, the horrors!)

    On a tangential note, I must have kept way busier on my mission in California than other missionaries did, because I didn’t have time for phone calls home, anyway. Heck, we barely had time to make calls to investigators, members, and mission leaders before we were tired as and ready for bed. When I did call home, it took a huge chunk of time out of the day, especially since my companion would also be calling home. Not to mention the time difference, and trying to figure out when to call when my family would actually be home, etc.

  76. If you’re wondering why I’m staying out of the “ET phone home segment” of this converstation, I’m saving it all for a full length post.

    I’m sure no one cares why I’m not talking, but I guess I want everyone to know I have an opinion, and isn’t that what blogging is about.

  77. Kullervo, I think you’re waay melodramatizing what I actually said I was feeling like.

    And I’m pretty sure I’m in the best position here to know what I felt like.

  78. As for the joking part… well, I would like to do it. But there’s something about me randomly seeking membership in gimmick churches that my husband dislikes and he would rather I didn’t.

    Otherwise I would totally do it. :(

    Aw, bummer. But it’s probably for the best. Heaven knows I don’t need more religious discord in my marriage than exists now anyway! ;)

  79. **Not that there’s a lot of religious discord in my marriage. But it can be tough on one spouse when the other is…ummm…exploring. Anyway. Not to dwell on this, but I didn’t want to give the wrong impression!

  80. Alextvalencic — No cheap shot intended. I did conflate various things that were being said; what I think is “stupid” is praying about how many neutrons are in a helium atom, for example, to find out what the truth is. What you said here I pretty much agree with.

  81. BJM asked:

    What exactly is the point of not allowing missionaries to call home on a more regular basis?

    I think Alextvalencic gave a pretty good answer. I see it as part of dedicating oneself fully to a task, of separating oneself from the regular cares of the world.

    That said, I wouldn’t have such a rigid rule if I were in charge of the program. Actually, there are quite a few things (including the dress code) I’d set up differently.

    And there are probably plenty of good reasons I haven’t been put in charge.

    I’d had only one child (to this point) go on a mission. In practice, the rule wasn’t quite as draconian as it sounds. We communicated extensively via e-mail and snail mail, and we knew how we could reach him had there been some sort of emergency. And if he had had to reach us in an emergency, he had a cell phone he could have used.

  82. Tangential Comment

    Katie ~ Aw, bummer. But it’s probably for the best. Heaven knows I don’t need more religious discord in my marriage than exists now anyway!

    Heh.

    I’m pretty sure that we’re going to do a wedding vow renewal ceremony in four years when we hit our 10-year anniversary mark.

    I’m also pretty sure that I’m going to ask a Latter-day Saint woman to officiate at it. If the church won’t give its women cool ceremonial things to do, I will.

    It won’t be as neat as ordination, but maybe in four years, if we’re still assassin sister-wives… ;)

    (And for the record, yes, that’s how much of a woman I am, that I’m planning out our wedding vow renewals four years in advance.)

  83. OK, I’ve been totally out of the loop.

    Nobody has mentioned the possibility that the rule about phone calls home could be… to prevent some mommies and daddies who can’t cut the cord from calling their kid who’s trying to focus on her church and her spirituality and can’t do it when her parents are calling every day talking about nonsense, and perhaps getting really upset if their baby doesn’t return their calls fast enough. In less abrasive terms, it might help some parents restrain themselves when then miss their kids.

    As far as the plan… I am on the fence about whether one should offer phone/internet. In Tim’s case, his ideal would be to show someone that the LDS Church isn’t the end-all be-all, and that there are other ways. Subtly undermining the rules is a way to do that.

    As for me, I would have (and possibly did) offer that when I was an active member. I generally don’t have a problem with rule breaking. Now that I’m horribly inactive, if the missionaries ever came over (which they don’t and haven’t since Kullervo had his name removed), I wouldn’t. I would feel like it was disrespectful now, as I don’t consider myself a member of the Church.

  84. I think Katyjane’s point about parents phoning the missionaries too often could be part of the web which led to/maintains some of the contact rules. I know a few parents that would prove to be emotionally draining to their kids on a mission field – if but for the reason they would expect to hear miraculous stories every day.

    In this regard, I hear Kullervo commenting on the problems associated with large disconnects between reality and idealized myths.

    I really don’t like the “try to subtly undermine the rules for them” approach to anything. It just seems rather un-Christian. Building bridges by letting each person express their personal stories in a way that doesn’t set up a challenge (by requiring no direct response) seems like a great approach. Let the conversation start with each side reflecting on the personal significance of things for the other side.

  85. Good point.

    Kullervo,

    Isn’t family one of the biggest brainwashing outfits in our modern society?

    So I guess you could look at a mission as “de-programming” if you like.

  86. Kullervo

    You really don’t get it, do you? Read what I said and you will see that I specifically said that it is when the desires are good that we are to support them. If a friend vows to God to kill another in vengence I am going to do all I can to restrain him, even calling the police if necessary, because the desire is not a good one. However, devoting two years of your life to absolute service to God in spreading his gospel, this is a good desire and thus I will support anyone who chooses to do so. Giving up things for Lent is a good desire, so I will support anyone who chooses to do so (even though I am LDS I have considered doing this myself).
    You examples are not of good desires and therefore do not command the respect that the examples I have given do.

    I really don’t care it you agree with the mission calling and rules. We may be misguided according to you. But that is not sufficient reason to disrespect the our Faith.

    The problem with what you claim is respecting the person but not the religion is that the “respect” you claim to be giving is not needed. The missionaries do not to call home more often than twice a year, they do not need the internet. Thus all you do in offering is to undermine their faith, and thus you are truly disrespecting them. You use very extreme examples to justify your petty ones. To offer a Mormon who is dying of thirst a caffinated drink is not disrespectful, but to off one to a mormon who has all the necessities of life is. Thus, if a missionary has a family crisis at home and needs to contact them, offering them a phone or internet would not be disrespectful, but offering a missionary whose family is fine and who has no need to contact them a phone is, for it is an unnecessary temptation.

  87. I can’t imagine a conversation justifying – castigating contact expectations will go anywhere. People like Haidt have done some pretty good work which show moral judgements of this sort involve strong post-hoc constructions based mostly on prior biases.

    http://www.faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/articles/haidt.emotionaldog.manuscript.pdf

    We tend to overestimate the role of reason in decision making, which is why I like the non-debate approach to witnessing.

  88. Pingback: John Dehlin « Heart Issues for LDS

  89. My motivation for the phone call thing has nothing to do with undermining mission rules or Mormonism. I’ll explain shortly in a full post.

    ———————————————————————–

    thus all you do in offering is to undermine their faith

    But aren’t the missionaries there to undermine every investigators faith in non-Mormonism? I mean seriously, are Mormon missionaries out and about to promote and encourage people to remain and grow in their current non-Mormon faith tradition?

    It’s heresy for Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox to consider non-Biblical text as scripture. By telling investigators to read the Book of Mormon and view it as scripture aren’t Mormons undermining sola scriptura?

    You want Evangelicals to extend considerations to Mormon missionaries but not the other way around. I think Mormon missionaries are open game for conversion. If you can convert them to your faith, you should.

  90. “are Mormon missionaries out and about to promote and encourage people to remain and grow in their current non-Mormon faith tradition?

    While it may be naive, I would sure hope so.

    “It’s heresy for Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox to consider non-Biblical text as scripture. By telling investigators to read the Book of Mormon and view it as scripture aren’t Mormons undermining sola scriptura?”

    Yes, one would have to agree. If it is being passed off as a harmless little thing intended to be used as a hidden wedge then I would say it is rather devilish.

    In a related note, I don’t think the strategy of having people pray about things is wrong. Asking mormons to pray whether the book of mormon is false may sound equivalent to praying about the converse, but one is based on negatives while one is based on positives. In witnessing I would suggest finding things that can be added rather than things to be taken away (understanding that the intent isn’t to add ulteriorly motivated wedges, but things which are intended to benefit that paradigm).

  91. TIM

    A missionary is to present the Book of Mormon as scripture according to LDS doctrine. They are to teach what LDS doctrine is, and then they are to ask if the person is interested in investigating the truth of the claims.

    I have no problem with a non-member teaching the doctrine they believe, and presenting any literature as what they believe it to be, and then asking if the missionaries are interested in investifating the truth of the claims.

    This is what is fine. Most of the time the Missionaries will say that the Book of Mormon is scripture, but they do not ask people to read it as scripture, simply to read it and investigate whether it is scripture or not. If they do not except is as scripture they have not violated their faith, only read a book.
    Thus, in doing what the Missionaries ask the person is not breaking any covenant, not violating their faith. However, for a Missionary to accept the offer of a phone would be doing just that.

    If a person wants to change their faith, that is fine, but it must be their choice, based on their conscience. When you undermine the faith of another you are attempting to replace their conscience with yours, and a Missionary who does this is not fulfilling his call.

    When I speak concerning this article I am saying that the set-up sounds and feels like a trap, an attempt to bring the missionaries to your conscience without respect for theirs. I will also agree that the old method of six discussions that the missionaries followed could appear the same way, which is one reason I think the method was changed.

  92. Tim, don’t get all Machiavellian on us here. The missionaries are not out to undermine your faith. They couldn’t possibly; they’re callow 20 year olds out offering people the option.

    But that leads me into another tiny little rant: A person converts to Christianity, and you think it’s YOU (or any mortal alive today) who did the converting?

  93. Thus, in doing what the Missionaries ask the person is not breaking any covenant, not violating their faith. However, for a Missionary to accept the offer of a phone would be doing just that.

    Shemawater, this get backs to your rather excessive use of the term “covenant.” In the temple, I’ve made covenants about a whole lot of things.

    Whether or not I would use the phone to call my mother while I was serving as a missionary was absolutely, positively NOT one of them.

    Making an unauthorized phone call as a missionary may well be a violation of mission rules (and let’s face it, it’s a fairly minor violation at that), but under NO conceivable circumstances can it be viewed as “breaking [a] covenant or violating [one’s] faith.”

  94. JARED

    It is constantly spoken of in the D&C as teaching according to the covenants, or keeping the covenants.

    Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine, makes these statements about Covenants.

    “In the Gospel sense, a covenant is a binding and solemn compact, agreement, contract, or mutual promise between God and a single person or a group of chosen persons.”
    He later describes the New and Everlasting Covenant as “The fullness of the Gospel” embracing “every other covenat that Deity ever has made or ever will make with men.” He gives the provisions of this covenant as “men will believe, repent, be baptized, receive theHoly Ghost, and endure in righteousness to the end, they shall have an inheritance in the Celestial World.” All of these terms and conditions are “accepted by individual men incident to their baptism…” which is like signing the contract. This is renewed by ordinance of the Sacriment.
    He next tells us that “Ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood…” is an occasion when “…men make the covenant of exaltation.”
    He speaks of tithing, Sabbath day observance, the Word of Wisdom, the United Order, and the Temple ceremones as all being covenants with God.
    He also lists many covenants made to individuals (such as Noah being promised there would be no more world-wide floods).

    Under the New and Everlasting Covenant he states “When men accept the gospel, they thereby agree or covenant to keep the commandments of God, and he promises or covenants to give them salvation in his kingdom.

    All things in the church are governed by Law, for the house of the Lord is a house of order. When a person accepts the call to serve in any cappacity they are making a covenant with God. They promise to fulfill the duties of that calling, and he promises to give them power and guidance to do so.

    As to covenanting to follow your leaders, that is exactly what you do when you raise your hand in the sustaining vote. You are covenanting with God to support and follow that person as your leader. If they lead you down the wrong path it will be on their heads. However, if you feel their counsel to be in error there is always the church appeals system that was set up for those who feel their leaders have broken that covenant.

    Example: My Father. There was time when he brought some fire-wood to a family, friends of his. He was disfellowshiped because that was the duty of their home teachers. He was not able to use his priesthood, or partake of the sacrement. It was the first time since he joined the church that he didn’t have 100% home teaching. It was wrong, and it tormented him. But he abided by the dicision of his leaders. He took the matter to the stake president, who upheld the Bishop. He went to the area President, and evetually to the First Presidency (writing them two letters). All of them upheld the local leaders. So my father endured six months of spiritual agony as he abided the dicision of his leaders.
    Will he be condemned for not partaking of the Screment, even though he was worthy? With he be accountable for those months of missed home teaching? No. He made the covenant to support his leaders, and had used every legitamate means God has given to overturn their counsel. Thus he is freed from any accountability for those things, and his leaders will be held accountable for causing them.

  95. Rob, it’s no fault of your own given the time stamps, but it amuses me to hear that my scenario of offering kindness to Mormon missionaries is a trap and then in the next comment told that I’m being Machiavellian.

    What option are the missionaries offering to people?

    Your rant is acknowledged, though we are the tools God uses. Some of us are bigger tools than others.

  96. Katie

    All things in the church are done by covenant. When you wnt into the mission field did you make a commitment before God to keep those rules? Did you expect anything in return? If either question is answered yes than you made a covenant. No, it was not a covenant of Exaltation as the Temple Covenants are, but it was a covenant.

    Any agreement between God and man where each promises to do or give something in exchange for something from the other is a covenant.
    Hannah made the covenant that if God gave her children she would give the first to his service. She had a son, and Samuel was given to the Lord.
    Samsom made the covenant to not cut his hair, and in return was given great strength.

    When you pray to God in private and promise to pay an honest tithe if God will bless you with the money you need, you have made a covenant.

    This is what a covenant is. See my previous post to Jared.

  97. Tim, am I in grad school? The option is to learn about the Mormons and join their church. Does it have to be more complicated than that?

  98. All of these terms and conditions are “accepted by individual men incident to their baptism…” which is like signing the contract.

    Which “terms and conditions” and you referring to? That I must have faith, repent, get baptized, receive the Holy Ghost and endure to the end?

    …Still waiting for the part that prohibits me from making a phone call.

    When you wnt into the mission field did you make a commitment before God to keep those rules? Did you expect anything in return?

    I actually don’t remember promising anything to anyone about rule-keeping. I really don’t. Maybe I did, but I truly can’t recall it. I remember knowing that the rules would be strict and being preconditioned to accept it–and FWIW, I did keep the rules to an obsessive degree. But I honestly don’t remember promising anyone I would, God or otherwise.

    And no, I didn’t expect anything in return for my missionary service. I never “expect” blessings from God because I don’t think God owes me anything, ever. Of course, He always blesses me anyway–even though I’ve done nothing to deserve it. To me, this is a profound demonstration of His mercy and grace.

    Shemawater, I mean this in love. But if your understanding of the gospel is so legalistic that you actually refer to “terms and conditions” and who is “accountable” for which sins when you discuss it, I’m concerned you might be missing the heart of the matter…and losing out on some of the peace and joy that Jesus brings.

    Just a thought.

  99. Shemawater- I really don’t know what to say. I think your view is wrong, but don’t really have much interest in “setting you right” suffice it to say that I think this view creates a legalistic view of human relationships with God, and in some way limits understanding on how God works, or at least has worked in my life. I think He communicates and works with people other than with such a system of “covenants”.

    If this is what McConkie thought, I think he was wrong on this issue and Mormon Doctrine is certainly only one opinion. However, I think you are over-reading McConkie as well.

    I don’t believe that members of the church are condemned for not doing their home teaching or for not taking the sacrament. I see these things as being given for the benefit of members not as legal requirements.

    I also almost speechless when reading the situation with your father. I don’t know if I could hang in there if that happened to me.

  100. Jack Some of us are bigger tools than others.
    :)

    I am guessing that participants in this blog is a representative sample of some of the biggest tools around (myself especially).

  101. Rob,

    What are the consequences to my current faith if I accept the missionaries invitation to join them in the LDS church?

  102. I did say some things that I shouldn’t have said. I do enjoy talking with you online, and I know you are a desent guy. I think what I said applies more to others I have met than to you.

    Thanks, shematwater, that warms my heart (no sarcasm here).

    Also, Tim, thanks for your kind words and for giving me the benefit of the doubt at a time when it can be unpopular.

    As a side note, I am really looking forward to the caliber ofevangelical/Mormon interaction going up a notch with discussion tools like Google Wave, which can be embedded at the end of blog posts!

    OK, now to the main issues.

    I like Tim’s post and I will take his advice on giving the missionaries an oasis. If only millions of evangelicals would invite the missionaries over and share a personal testimony of what God has done in their life.

    Here is what I posted in review of Bridget’s post:

    I really appreciated Bridget’s fair summary of “option #3″. I do think it can be integrated with the main elements of option #2. Option #2 as stated seems to be unique for what it does not do, not for what it does do. In other words, why not gush over our precious Jesus and share our personal testimonies and love for our faith, be inquisitive with questions for the missionaries about their own beliefs, and then combine that with some hard-hitting apologetic issues? People are so different, we never know what instrumentally will impact them. Holistic engagement ideally address the intellectual, emotional, and physical parts of the people we are reaching.

    Since most evangelicals are not up to speed on the apologetic issues, they probably need to focus on sharing simple truths from the Bible and their own personal testimonies, with a few very basic apologetic issues sprinkled in if they can. If the Christians here in Utah would take a more active role in doing option #2, I’d be a happy man as long as it didn’t remove the urgency of the gospel, the high stakes involved [heaven or hell], and the unfathomable importance of worshiping God as he is really is lest we be idolaters.

  103. Tim, I have no idea what the consequences for you would be. I don’t know you at all well.

  104. I’ll spell it out. My current faith would be undermined and replaced with yours. That’s a consequence of every LDS conversion. I’m fine with it. It’s a natural consequence. I just don’t understand (actually I do) why you think it’s fine for Mormons to undermine my faith, but not fine for me to undermine Mormon faith.

  105. Tim, don’t build strawmen. They’re scratchy and irritating. And they haven’t got a brain.

  106. Rob I’m totally confused. What is the straw man I built. I’d prefer not to use them and appreciate your help in communicating strongly and effectively.

  107. A) I don’t accept that a Mormon conversion from any brand of Christianity is an undermining of faith, especially faith in Jesus Christ. I also don’t accept that a conversion into *your* approach to Jesus from mine is an undermining of faith.

    Mostly, this is because I don’t accept the idea that Mormonism is an entirely separate and incompatible thing foreign to the EV mindset. If that’s where you are with this stuff then you’ll get no cooperation from me. “Undermine” implies enmity, which is not what the Elders are taught to bring.

    B) I’m not opposed to your approach to witnessing to Mormon missionaries. A few EV’s in Switzerland did exactly what you recommend, and to this day I remember them as civilized and kind-hearted people, clearly animated by the idea of Jesus and His saving Grace.

    In fact my single concern with it is that you don’t create the impression with the missionaries that you wish to help them violate their rules; it may damage your effort to be “an example of the believers” if you lose their respect that way.

    C) Unlike a few others here I think it’s fine for you to witness to the Elders. You have the power, as a believer in Jesus Christ, to engender a feeling of mutual love for the basic common ideas between us. (You’re utterly mistaken if you think those common ideas don’t exist.)

    Thus, the strawman is your claim that you understand why I’d want to undermine your faith but declare our missionaries off limits. I want no such thing. Go to it; you’ll widen their world and make new friends.

  108. Pingback: How Should Evangelicals Approach Mormon Missionaries? « Summa Theologica – Interfaith Dialogue

  109. Jared and Katie

    I am not going to continue either. I could give many references in the Doctrine and Covenants to show what I am saying, but there really doesn’t seem to be any point.

    In my mind, as I have read the scriptures, if you do not enter into a covenant with God you will not receive the blessings. If you have received the blessings than you have entered into a covenant.

  110. In my mind, as I have read the scriptures, if you do not enter into a covenant with God you will not receive the blessings. If you have received the blessings than you have entered into a covenant.

    I’m not trying to belabor this point or argue with you, but would like to better understand your perspective. A few questions…

    1)–If all blessings are the result of covenant, what do you say about people who aren’t LDS and who haven’t made binding priesthood covenants, but whom God obviously blesses?

    2)–What about people like Saul of Tarsus, who was a vile sinner at the time Christ visited him? What did Saul “do” to “merit” such a manifestation?

    3)–Where does grace fit into your worldview?

  111. I think those are excellent questions, Katie L. Maybe here would be a good place to discuss that topic, since the point of Tim’s post (to which I never got around to responding to) seems to be similar to what you’re saying.

  112. I agree with Shem’s idea that blessings can be – not earned – but qualified for via covenant. This is pretty solid concept scripturally.

    But I would certainly dispute that this is the only way blessings come. And I think that is pretty well-established scripturally as well.

  113. I think at the heart of understanding shematwater is the question I posed 3 days ago:

    Please distinguish between the following words as they apply to your view of LDS doctrine (if, in fact, there is any meaningful distinction):

    covenant
    promise
    commitment
    contract
    agreement

    …which he indirectly answered by quoting BRM:

    “In the Gospel sense, a covenant is a binding and solemn compact, agreement, contract, or mutual promise between God and a single person or a group of chosen persons.”

    In other words, shematwater apparently makes no distinction between “covenant” and any of the other terms—it’s a much, much more inclusive use of the word “covenant” than the rest of us are used to.

  114. First, I really am not completely sure who here is LDS and who is active. As such I am simply going to given an answer without regard to the background and biases of any individual.

    D&C 130: 20-21 “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

    This tells us that obedience is the only way to be blessed. It does not say who can be blessed throughobedience, but makes an all encompassing statement. Thus, no matter what religion or sect you belong to, if you obey the command given in the Word of Wisdom, you will gain the blessings that have been set for that obedience. If you pray regularly with faith you will receive the blessings that come from prayer. Blessings are given for obedience, and for no other reason.

    However, this does not always require a covenant. The pagan who follows the Word of Wisdom will still receive “health to his naivel and marrow to his bones.”

    However, there are blessings that can only comes through the making of a covenant. An example is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. This is only gained through the making of the Baptismal Covenant. Another is exaltation, which is only gained through the making of the Temple Covenants.

    Now, one the other hand, not all covenants are made for preset blessings, and some are made that is a blessing is given the person do something in return. This later kind is shown in the story of Japhthah (Judges 11) who covenanted that if God delivered his enemies he would sacrifice the first thing that he saw on his return home.

    Covenants can be made with God by any person, regardless of their religion. When a Chatholic gives up things for lent he his making a covenant with God, and God will honor that. When an individual promises anything to God he has made a covenant. While many do not have the true Gospel, God is loving and will honor the covenant of the righteous, no matter how deceived or misguided they are.

    The covenants that most people consider to be covenants are those that are recerved to the True Believers, those that are required for salvation, such as baptism and those in the Temple. These are part of the New and Everlasting Covenant, as described by Bruce R. McConkie, and spoken of many times in the D&C. But there are covenants to individuals that are not part of this Covenant, covenants made for specific people at specific times.

    As to Brian’s question, The difference I would make between the different words is that a Covenant is any one of the others in which God is party to the agreement. any promise, contract, or pact made between men and God is a Covenant, and is frequently refered to as such in the D&C. Yes, they are on occasion called promises and such, but only when describing one side of the agreement. Thus we see the passage “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” Thus it can be rightly said that a promise is half of a Covenant.

    Now, to answer katie’s questions

    I have actually answered the first in the beginning, that all can gain the blessings of obedience to the Laws, regardless of religion, as long as they have faith.

    The second question, concerning Saul of Tarsus, this is not difficult to understand. Saul had made covenants under the Jewish system, and he had been faithful in keeping them. He was a “gross” sinner in his own mind (being very humble) but as these sins were in ignorance they are not as grevious as he says. The manifestation he received was merited by his action in the Pre-existance. Having been called (like Jeremiah) before he was born to an apostle to the Gentiles Christ brought him to the true faith in a way he could not refuse. It was not until later that he made his covenants and became a missionary (a few years if I remember correctly).

    As to Grace, Grace is the mercy and condessension of God towards man. Just to clarify, Grace is not the result of the Atonement, but rather the Atonement is a result of Grace. Grace works in a few different ways. First, it gives us the basic knowledge of good and evil, making us capable is desiring righteousness. But, its main function is to give us the strength and power to keep the commandments and covenants necessary to be saved. It also provides the end reward if we use this power right. Thus, it is by grace that we can even make the covenants, and by grace that we are empowered to keep them, and then grace gives us the blessings.

    However, if we do not act on that first gift of knowledge and make no covenants, we have no expectation of gaining power to keep them, or of gaining a reward for doing so. And again, if we act on the knowledge, but not on the power we still have no expectation of the reward.

    All things done in the Kingdom of God are by covenants, but covenants come in many forms and to many people, and are not reserved for only a select few.

  115. Shematwater said:

    The manifestation he received was merited by his action in the Pre-existance.

    Is this conclusion based on anything in the scriptures?

  116. D&C 138: 55-56 “I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.”
    Just before this is given a great list of many of the Old Testiment prophets, and mention is made of the Book of Mormon prophets, and then a list of modern Prophets and leaders. Thus, it is not unreasonable to say that Paul was also one of these Noble and Great ones chosen from the beginning.

  117. Another note: Paul, speaking to the Romans, speaks of the Election of Grace, and in Ephesians 1: 3-4 speaks of God having chosen the saints before the foundation of the world. These references from the New Testiment lead me to believe that the circumstances of each mans birth were decided before anyone ever came to this Earth. The Electrion of Grace means that some, who were more valiant and had progressed farther than others, were given the blessing of being born into the Covenant line of Israel, and some the additional blessing of being born in the days of Christ and his early church. Others, because they had not acted as valiently, were sent to the earth during the Dark Ages, when the light of truth had left the world.
    Now, I do not say that all people born into Israel or at the time of Christ were necessarily great men in their pre-mortal life, nor do I say all those born in the Dark Ages were wicked. But the basic premise is that the all men receive at birth those blessings they earned in the pre-mortal life.

  118. Shem, thanks for the clarification. I see where you’re coming from now. I disagree with you (though I can’t get into the details in a public forum such as this for several reasons). But I do think your position is internally consistent and hope it does well for you.

    Have a great one.

  119. You’re aware, aren’t you Shem, that the “health and marrow” passage is a direct reference to a passage in Isaiah?

    Anyway, I still think it overstates the LDS idea of a covenant, conflating it somewhat with the idea of natural and direct consequences, but there is no denying that many LDS (and not a few mainstream Christians, for that matter) operate and moralize using points of view not unlike this.

    I don’t share the point of view completely, even though I’m a deeply committed LDS adherent, fully active and in good standing with the Church. It seems to me that this mode of thought leads to some categorical errors regarding the pre-existence, which have rationalized certain incorrect folk doctrines in our past.

    Yes, all that circumlocution was on purpose. :-)

  120. A correction: It’s a passage in Proverbs. I got my Old Testament flummoxed; sorry!

  121. Whether the reference is in the Old Testiment or not, it is given in section 89 of the D&C as a promised blessing for obeying the Word of Wisdom.

    As long as we understand each other, that is all I really care about on these threads.

  122. were sent to the earth during the Dark Ages, when the light of truth had left the world.

    Whoever is responsible for teaching Medieval History at BYU needs to be shot.

  123. I completed the Medieval History course required at BYU last year. It is not the cause of that ignorant statement.

    Reference my comment above about categorical errors and incorrect folk doctrines.

  124. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Conference Edition! | Main Street Plaza

  125. This is helpful. Thanks.

    A different view. I am not persuaded on the praying with part. Judaism and early Christianity precluded praying with pagans or heretics. Eating in my house is one thing, praying with is another. Praying for is someting different as well.

  126. Seth,

    In Orthodoxy it does. I am Orthodox so it does. This is why the Orthodox do not pray with the LDS, Protestants or Catholics either for that matter, nor commune with then and neither do Orthodox Jews.

  127. Perry: thanks for explaining your p.o.v. How does that work in practice? Say, for example, that you have a non-Orthodox guest over for dinner; assuming you normally pray before a meal, do you pray before they arrive, excuse them from the table while you pray, or break the “no praying with other faiths” rule?

  128. As far as evangelical Christians go, I’ve heard arguments from both sides of the matter. Even Greg Johnson seems rather cautious about it.

    For myself personally, having already moved on to swapping bodily fluids with a Mormon, I figure it’s a little late to try and draw the boundaries at prayer.

  129. I draw the line pretty clearly. I refuse to pray with people who don’t share my view that Jesus had bright green eyes, they clearly have a different Jesus in mind.

  130. Perry Robinson,

    That’s very interesting. I have a friend who used to be Protestant but is now Orthodox. When she was contemplating making the move, I told her that I had heard that the Orthodox didn’t believe in praying with Protestants or Catholics, etc. (I had read an Orthodox person say the same thing before on the internet) They became somewhat alarmed, and asked their Orthodox leader about it. He told them they could pray with anyone they wanted to. He told them, “I don’t claim to know where God is not, but I do know where God is.” Meaning that he wasn’t into judging other churches, but he believed God was with the Orthodox. They did make the move and converted to Orthodoxy, but she is still my friend, and will still pray with me if I want her to. It seems to me that different Orthodox can have different opinions. You may say that my friend is wrong, but that is your opinion. Also, we have sponsored an Orthodox child in Armenia for six years now, and I’ll bet you when we go to visit them in Armenia in a few years, I don’t think they’re going to object to praying with us. They have already thanked us for our prayers on their behalf. I consider them dear friends, and they have told us that they consider our daughter as theirs too. I think it just depends on the individual people involved.

  131. Lisa,

    Actually it is not my opinion. It is in the canons of various ecumenical and local councils affirmed by my church. I dare say that trumps the opinion of one priest.

  132. Mr. Robinson,

    I daresay that in my opinion, this one priest is modeling the example of how Jesus would have us live more than the local and ecumenical councils. When my baby was one year old, we got a letter from G, our Armenian sponsored child, along with photos. G’s mother had risen early on my daughter’s first birthday, and had baked a birthday cake and put my daughter’s name on it. When G. got home from school, they had dinner and celebrated our daughter’s birthday. I saw a picture of the cake with “Nadine” written with icing on top and the entire family sitting around the table. My heart was deeply touched. We have written each other constantly these last six years. Both of us have prayed for each other through good times and bad. They have invited us to come visit them. They tell me Lake Sevan is really beautiful. I’ve often imagined how wonderful it would be to actually get to meet them after all these years. I imagine us going to Yerevan and then traveling to their town. After all that journey, halfway around the world, when I finally get there and get to see them, and feel like just falling down on my knees and thanking God for the safe journey and to be able to meet them–then to imagine them saying, “Sorry, we can’t pray with you or commune with you, you’re a pagan.” Well, I would be really hurt. Not so hurt that I wouldn’t continue to be a donor, but I would feel deeply hurt. Somehow though, I don’t see it happening because in all the quantity and quality of communication that has gone on between our two families, I don’t see them as being that kind of people. In my opinion, when your doctrine, your “beliefs” get to be so important to you that you stop treating people like human beings who have feelings, then you’ve gone too far.
    When we were getting married, my husband asked his friend to stand up with him. His friend, an Orthodox, refused because of his religion. My husband was deeply hurt, and I hurt for him, but we moved on. A few years later, my husband’s friend apologized to him, and said it had been very stupid and wrong of him to refuse to be in our wedding. It seems that his friend had joined a Christian single’s service, and had asked a girl out. The girl, a born again Christian, had turned him down flat because she didn’t feel he was a Christian. It really saddened me that it had to take an experience like that for my husband’s friend to see the error of his ways. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

  133. Lisa,

    In your opinion, did Jesus pray with worshippers of Zeus? What did he tell the Samaratin woman? “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” Jn 4:22 Jesus seems to show partiality in terms of worship. Paul also seems to say similar things in his epistles about worshipping with non-believers, pagans or people who have departed from the faith with new teachings.

    Second, as the NT indicates in Acts 15, councils can be directly guided by God. Being accepting has its limits and I dare say you’re accepting has its limits as well. We differ on where to draw the line. Treating people respectfully doesn’t entail capitulating to their beliefs or being indifferent as if none of the beliefs really matter. When I am out with my Jewish friends, I am not offended when they won’t pray with me. I get it. It doesn’t bug me in the least. In fact, I respect them for having some courage and acting on principle rather than cave to convention. I think I am big enough to get that other people’s practices and beliefs don’t need to bend to my feelings.

    And I don’t know if you’re LDS, but I seriously doubt the LDS permits its members to pray or worship with Zorastians, Buddhists, Muslims or other faiths.

  134. Perry, I could go and participate in any of those worship services, and I doubt my bishop would care in the slightest.

    As long as I can affirm that I hold the tenants of my own faith, it’s all cool.

  135. I suppose he might – in so far as it reflects on my belief in the LDS claim to sole authority to administer saving ordinances. But anything short of that, I doubt it.

  136. Mr. Robinson,

    Zorastrian, Buddhist, and Muslims aren’t Christians. Jews aren’t Christians. There’s a difference. Obviously, you don’t think anyone who isn’t Orthodox is a true Christian. This is interesting. What do you have to say to this, all you Evangelicals out there? You told me that it didn’t matter what church you belonged to, as long as you had accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Obviously, the Evangelical who told me that was misinformed.

    Mr. Robinson, as far as I’m concerned, Jesus was for treating people like they were human beings who mattered. I understand that the Samaritans were hated by the Jews, but Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman like she was a person. He also treated the woman taken in adultery with compassion, but also telling her to sin no more. He got in trouble with the religious authorities for healing people on the Sabbath. Again, people were what was important to him.
    I’m not going to be a slave to any doctrine–whether that doctrine is RLDS, or Evangelical. I’m not going to be a slave to what any council says. I can read in the New Testament how Jesus conducted his life, and I can try to approximate that. (I will always fall short, however.) I think the Bible is a wonderful and trustworthy guide, but I do not worship it.

    It is an interesting question, the difference between praying “with” someone and praying “for” someone. I once worked in an Arab embassy. If one of my Muslim colleagues was having a difficulty, and asked me to pray for her, I wouldn’t wash up and pray the Muslim way, but I would take her hand and pray Christian style, if she wanted me to. Similarly, if I am an aid worker on the scene at a disaster site, and a Buddhist person who has just lost his entire family comes up to me and asked me to pray for him, if I clasped his hand and prayed in your opinion would I be committing a sin? Technically, I’m praying “for” these people, but they are with me, and we are clasping hands. If after I prayed, the Buddhist started praying too before I could stop him, am I sinning? The God I worship wants people to come to Him in prayer. I don’t think He’s as hardhearted as you make Him sound.

    Jack, my name is still on the rolls of the Community of Christ. I had it restored a few years ago. I also attend Episcopal Chapel at my daughter’s school, and if I need spiritual advice, I will go to her Vicar, who is an Evangelical in the Episcopal church. By the way, is Tite Tienou still the Dean of TEDS? He wrote me the nicest letter after I complained about one of the students there. Did you meet that guy I told you about? I’m not naming him publicly. Hope you are doing well there.

  137. Perry, Jack: I’m gonna back Seth up here and say that LDS leadership has no problem with members visiting other religions, associating with, or praying with people from other religions. It depends on how far you wanna take it, of course, but going to a friend’s house for dinner—regardless of their religion or lack thereof—and respecting their religious customs is just Article of Faith 11 for Mormons.

  138. Perry, one more thing. I don’t believe that the traditional RLDS church would have had a problem with my praying with non RLDS in all the situations that I’ve outlined in my posts so far. We have the exact same articles of Faith the LDS do. If the traditional RLDS didn’t object, there’s no way the modern, Community of Christ would, either.

  139. Perry, the LDS Church as a matter of general policy doesn’t discipline members for taking baptism in other churches (meaning that alone is not grounds for an LDS disciplinary council), so I doubt they’d be fussed to the point of excommunication or disfellowshipment action if a Mormon took communion elsewhere.

    As a missionary I regularly prayed with people of all kinds of faiths, including Muslims and a couple of African animists. It was simply understood between us all at that moment that we were sharing what was precious to us. It’s like BrianJ said; it’s the 11th Article of Faith.

  140. Okay, here’s food for thought: the Orthodox churches will, under certain circumstances, accept the baptisms of converts from Protestant traditions so that they don’t have to be re-baptized. Under what circumstances will the LDS church accept my baptism if I want to convert?

    Earlier this year, when I did my guest-post on interfaith marriage for Times & Seasons, I brought up the suggestion that perhaps my children could just be baptized in both churches when they hit the appropriate age. Numerous T&S readers thought this was a horrible suggestion, citing the CHI which says that you can be excommunicated for getting baptized into another church when you’re LDS.

    I was tempted to just dismiss this as an extreme reaction, but then I wrote to three friends I know in lesser LDS leadership, one being a former bishop, one being a current bishop and one being a former mission president, and put the question to each of them. They all have a pretty friendly attitude towards the traditional Christian world, and yet they all said the same thing: no, you should not baptize your child in both churches. Baptism in the LDS church is an exclusive covenant to the LDS church and you shouldn’t make it unless it’s the only church you’re going to attend. So even concurrent baptism with another Christian faith wasn’t acceptable.

    Bottom line, we all have different places where we draw the line on these things. I personally favor praying with almost anyone who’s willing to pray to the Father in Jesus’s name, and praying to Jesus is an acceptable variant, but I’m not going to condemn anyone who thinks otherwise. I’d also much rather have someone accept my baptism than pray with me.

    Lisa ~ Tite Tienou is still the Dean. The President of the university changed this year, we got Craig Williford, formerly of Denver Seminary, who is a really great guy. So far I’ve gotten nothing but kind reactions to my interfaith marriage status, and I’ve mentioned it in every class I have.

    Re: the student you told me about, I just looked him up in the directory (which has photos). He’s working on an MA in Old Testament & Semitic Languages. He actually looks rather familiar—he might be in my history of fundamentalism & evangelicalism class, which has a ton of Old Testament people in it for some reason. I’ll take a look when the class meets on Thursday.

    If he is, then he’s aware of my interfaith marriage and hasn’t said anything to me about it.

  141. Just some thoughts on interfaith prayer… Whilst growing up, my circle of close friends included Jews, Muslims, devout Catholics, not-so-devout Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, all sorts of Evangelicals, Buddhists, other Mormons, and even a few atheists.

    I was never once told that I could not pray with them. I was present at the dinner-table when prayers were going on, and they were present at my table. I’ve never known anyone to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t pray with me. You aren’t of my faith.” Before major trips, members of the band and choir would participate in large prayer circles (not everyone, as this was purely voluntary and not sanctioned by the school). All of us participated – even the atheists! (Okay, they didn’t pray but they did stand respectfully in the circle clasping hands with their friends.)

    On my mission, I prayed with folks, for folks, and had folks pray for me all the time, regardless of religious beliefs. Never once thought that it would be an inappropriate thing.

    This practice of praying with anyone who wishes to raise their voice to the heavens to thank the Lord for blessings or ask for His help continues. I suppose that I look at the effective fervent prayer of the righteous as my basis for this practice.

  142. I’ve had some time to sleep on this issue. I think that if I traveled to Sri Lanka to visit my sponsored child who is Muslim, then I wouldn’t ask or expect her to pray with me. I would most definitely offer a prayer of Thanksgiving to God myself at some point during my trip though. If our family does make it to Armenia in a few years, I would be willing to keep my mouth shut and just bow my head while my Armenian family gave the prayer. Would that make it ok, Perry? I am much closer to my Armenian family than any other of my sponsored childrens’ families, (with the exception of my Salvadoran child, she’s my favorite) so that makes a difference. I just think that if we do manage to make the trip, that God will deserve major Thanksgiving and Praise for it, and I think it is appropriate for both our families to be together and say Thank you to God, whether I actually say a prayer or not.
    I do not understand accepting someone’s baptism when you won’t pray with them. That makes no sense to me at all. Traditional RLDS and Community of Christ do not accept other baptisms, but COC will let you take Communion.

  143. the CHI which says that you can be excommunicated for getting baptized into another church when you’re LDS.

    My memory of the contents of the CHI is that it says precisely the opposite of that, and that there needs to be evidence of active apostasy to convene a disciplinary council. Am I wrong?

  144. Jack,
    It’s been a couple of years since the incident with this student. I think that it is so easy to post nasty things on a blog where you’ve never met the person you’re communicating with, and will probably never meet them. I figure he’s either just like his blog personality–or he’s totally the opposite. I can imagine both. I do know that after I complained, at least two other people wrote to TEDS officials as well. He was really nasty then, but hopefully he’s cleaned up his act now.

  145. Jack: I also think it’s a bad idea for someone to be baptized LDS and in some other church. It would reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of what baptism means to LDS—and I wouldn’t advocate doing anything from a position of misunderstanding.

    Likewise, based on what Perry has said, I wouldn’t advise anyone to pray both in Orthodox and some other church. I have no problem with different religions drawing lines in different places and I’m happy to respect those lines whenever I can (and whenever I am aware of them!).

  146. Rob: “Formally join another church” is listed in the CHI as one reason that excommunication may be necessary if that membership is not ended. Thus, it’s left open that one could formally join another church and never face an LDS disciplinary council.

  147. So is the prohibition against prayer just an “in church” kind of thing? As in, someone from another faith couldn’t come into the place of worship and offer prayer there–but you could share a prayer with someone privately or in a less official capacity?

    Does it mean you’re not allowed to attend services of other faiths where prayers will be offered?

    Seems to me a very narrow and confining position, but I expect it’s because I don’t understand it properly.

  148. I have witnessed to lds missionaries at my door many times. I am a born again Christian.Although I know quite a bit about Mormonism, I don’t believe its necessary for Christians to learn everything about this religion. What is important is that we know what we believe and why. To give our own testimony and what the gospel of Jesus Christ really is. God said His word will not return to Him void. After the missionaries leaves, I suggest praying for them and pray hard.that the Holy Spirit will open their eyes and mind to the Truth.

  149. Hey Tim – I’m an evangelical and I just had a couple of Mormon missionaries come to my door. I wanted to love them and provide a good witness, so I simply invited them in, gave them water and we talked about life and our testimonies and then I prayed a general prayer asking for God to lead each of us to truth. I came away wondering if I hadn’t don’t enough to witness to them. Reading your posts encouraged me a ton — though I didn’t follow your plan perfectly, hopefully I gave them a positive experience with an evangelical.

  150. Really? I should share stories about my life. Ah? I see. Well, I have not mentioned about my life. Because Americans are very delicate. They do not want to know about my personal life. I was telling my personal life in jobs, schools, and other places and they asked me that they feel offended when I talk about my personal life. I was shocked and amazed because they did not want to know my personal life. They asked me, go to work and focus in your job field or something like that. I am impressed about that what you say. Mormons wants to know about my story life? Well, I hope they are not offended just like the other American people who does not want to know about my personal life. Interesting. The missionaries only asked me to preach and expound the scriptures. I thought why preach? The missionaries do not need to be preached. Only people needed to be preach. Missionaries need to be preaches? Huh? No, they do not need. They are missionaries. They know a lot. I am evangelical.

  151. I stopped coming to church just because I was sick for a short time. Thanks. Smile.

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