Ground Rules For Talking With Mormons

By happenstance, I came across the article today, Ground Rules for Talking with Mormons. The experience he relates fits well into my own. I thought he made some valid points to consider about the ground rules of a religious conversation without really getting into the particulars of Mormon doctrine or belief.

http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5282

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17 thoughts on “Ground Rules For Talking With Mormons

  1. Excellent article, and great points. Most Mormons use these very arguments when talking with someone, b/c they haven’t really “thought” about the fact that they DO believe in something absolute.

    Of course, when their beliefs are that most everyone EVENTUALLY will come to understand Mormonism, it’s a hard argument to make with them…

  2. Fair enough.

    But I will point out a minor flaw in his reasoning, which actually ties into another post you just posted. Mormonism isn’t about “scriptural proofs”, it’s about a personal witness from the Holy Ghost. If you pressed me on things that I believe, eventually you would find some area that I am not sure about, that doesn’t make sense even to me, etc. Those “unknowns” don’t rattle my faith, but they would of course stand as a barrier to acceptance of Mormonism if one followed Koukl’s approach.

  3. The problem is that the primary job description of a Mormon missionary is that of “witness,” not “apologist.”

    It is not the missionary’s job to argue the logic of Mormonism vs. Catholicism, or Judaism, or whatever. Their job is to present the message of Mormonism and bear testimony, and that’s pretty-much it. They are specifically trained not to get in debate matches with people. Some missionaries do, but it rarely turns out well.

    Koukl is stacking the deck in his own favor in this case. He is essentially trying to lure the missionaries out of their own established role, and into a debate where he is probably far better equipped than they are. Koukl is a mature and informed Christian apologist with specific training in debate tactics geared towards outside faiths. And here he proposes to invite in a couple wet-nosed young boys for an hour of theological pounding. I doubt half the missionaries out there would even realize what he was doing in setting his “ground rules.” It’s too easy for Christian apologists or counter-cultists to use this approach as a way to lure missionaries into their living rooms with the promise of an opportunity for testimonials, but with the actual intent of giving those boys “a beating they’ll never forget.”

    Yes, they did come to HIS house and knock on HIS door. But not to debate with him. If he doesn’t like that, he shouldn’t invite them in. Luring 19 year old kids into a debate they are not really equipped for is a bit unfair.

  4. Well if something about their role prevents them from abiding by his ground rules, then he is welcome to not invite them into his home.

    If an Amway salesman has something in his job description that says he can not walk away without getting at least $50 from every home he enters, it’s reasonable for people to say, I’ll hear what you have to say but I don’t want to give you $50 today. If he can’t keep that ground rule, then he won’t get invited in.

    What Koukl is telling Evangelicals is, “don’t let them in, unless they can play by these rules.” If there really is a specific instruction that keeps LDS missionaries from entering into these ground rules, then I guess the LDS church needs to be satisfied with fewer missionary discussions.

    To say “we’re only going to give our side and not take any questions” doesn’t sound reasonable and it’s something both FEMA and Hillary Clinton have gotten in trouble for in the last 2 weeks.

  5. Part of the problem also probably comes from differing definitions of what a missionary is.

    Protestants naturally see logical debate as a part of the package. Mormons don’t.

  6. Of course, anyone is entitled to set the ground rules for someone coming into his home, whether that someone is an LDS missionary or a mother-in-law.

    But I agree with what Seth R. said. Mr. Koukl’s essay seems a bit arrogant, I suppose that’s the best word, to me. It also smacks of using people to score some sort of divine brownie points rather than viewing them as real people or attempting to set up a real dialogue where both sides truly listen. His approach is manipulative (especially when dealing with missionaries who are barely out of high school) and less than straightforward. Mr. Koukl may get something out of it, I don’t know, but for the missionaries it’s a waste of time, and there’s a reason the church encourges witnessing to the gospel rather than getting into arguments about it.

    And I can’t imagine that if some Baptist or Pentecostal or whatever missionaries came to my door that I’d even consider treating them the way Mr. Koukl proposes to treat LDS missionaries.

  7. Seth and Eric: While I agree in part with you, I also agree with Tim (and Koukl). Koukl is rightly setting up the “proper defense” against Mormon missionaries:

    a) don’t let them in
    b) if ‘a’ fails, then let them in but don’t let them fulfill their mission (because their mission is to witness, not to debate)

    In other words, Koukl’s defense is to neutralize the Mormon offense.

    Tim: there’s nothing to prohibit LDS missionaries from fielding questions, but I’m sure you see the difference between questions and debate.

  8. By the way, as far as “fewer missionary discussions” goes, this sort of thing actually helped me as a missionary. I had a lot of people to teach, and that meant that I had to give priority to people who were more interested. I would have spent very little time in Koukl’s home because he would have made it clear at the beginning that he was not really interested. (I’m sure this is different in other parts of the world where discussions are hard to come by.)

  9. We hardly got any missionary discussions in my mission.

    The result with me was that I spent more time on reactivation efforts and serving the local membership. I got yelled at during zone conferences, but the local members liked me.

    Oh well. I thought the focus was in the right place anyway.

  10. Nah, brianj. I was in Germany where we never taught or baptized anyone, and I still wouldn’t have spent any time at Koukl’s house.

    If the missionaries don’t want to debate, they don’t have to. They can stay and debate or they can leave- he’s not keeping them there. In fact, he’s doing them a service by indicating that he intends to debate with them. I find that much more honest than the people who would let us in and talk to us receptively for an hour before unleashing a withering hail of debate points right when we thought he was ready to accept commitments.

  11. Kullervo said: I find that much more honest than the people who would let us in and talk to us receptively for an hour before unleashing a withering hail of debate points right when we thought he was ready to accept commitments.

    I agree with you there.

  12. When I was a missionary, much to many of my companions dismay, I sought out circumstances where I could listen and understand what other people believed. I felt, and still do, that to maintain the integrity of my position that I had to be just as open to convert to someone else’s religion as I wanted them to be open to converting to Mormonism.

    I had to believe that the “proof” that the spiritual witness that I had was the “truth” was that 1) other would have the same type of experience when they (encounter it and 2) I had to be humble enough to be open that I could be wrong (just like others could be wrong) and that God may want to straighten me out by opening me up to something that was not the religion I was born into.

    Consequently I had dozens of discussions with people such as Koukl. I spoke with Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and a lot of what missionaries called “Born Agains” I was in Los Angeles County so you could find just about anybody you wanted, and a lot that would talk to you. I remember having almost daily discussions like this when we lived next to Azusa Pacific University, a private Christian college. We would often go door to door in student housing. (I still seek out these conversations but its rare to encounter them in the life I lead)

    In reaction to Koukl I am puzzled by the reactions he describes missionaries as having. Maybe I am outside the norm but I never saw the persecution complex, when confronted with “evidence” against their position most missionaries were both unconvinced and dismissive and tried to find a way to disengage from the fervent “Born Again” who was trying to show them up. The general reaction to debate was withdrawal because those who wanted to debate were among the least likely to convert, and therefore would be a waste of time.

    When I had discussions with guys like Koukl, usually less skilled, was that their arguments were just unconvincing and I didn’t feel any love in how they made them. It didn’t seem like they cared about me, truly, but it was more an exercise in winning an argument.

    I often felt a real fear of us among evangelicals, a very hostile and guarded and defensive debate stance. It would often take me trying to calm them down and let them know that I was not trying to confront them and that I was sincerely interested in what they believed before they would relax and have a reasonable discussion.

    I studied philosophy in college and went to law school and nothing and few things are more unconvincing to me than structured arguments from the scriptures, simply because most of these argument is loaded with many un-proven and faith-based assumptions about what the scriptures are and what they mean that the arguments are just the superficial covering for the real reason the person making them believes. Apology is usually bad science and bad philosophy and often sophistry.

    As a missionary my goal was to be like the Stranger on the way to Emmaus. (Luke 24) Jesus is essentially “converting” his own disciples by teaching them from the scriptures (rather than simply saying “hey, here I am, this is the deal) and the the “proof” to the disciples, after Jesus reveals himself and disappears was the feeling they had when they listened to his arguments.

    He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

    As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

    When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” , “

    As a Mormon who is open minded to believe something elsel, I think that if Koukl could pull this off I would try to believe what he believed even if I could shoot holes in his arguments. I just don’t think he is setting that kind of stage with his “ground rules”

  13. I was curious if you ever considered changing the page layout of your site?
    Its very well written; I love what youve
    got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

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