For a couple of years I served at my church as a volunteer in the High School group. I would disciple and mentor about 8 – 10 high school boys every year and then help put on youth events and go on trips with the entire youth group. Occasionally we would have some Mormon kids show up to our Wednesday night Bible studies or whatever random events we were throwing. At times we would provide an open question time so that kids could ask any question about faith or doubt they wanted. We wanted to make sure that their questioning was validated and that they were respected even if they were struggling (and it was always a great teaching opportunity for kids who hadn’t thought of tough questions yet).
The Mormon kids (always boys, girls never visited) always pounced on the opportunity. Their questions were always very similar and the doctrine they always tried to label us with seemed to be what someone else said we believed rather than what we ourselves said we believed. The questions always had an agenda to them and always followed the same pattern. Now that I know a little bit more about Mormonism, my guess is that these kids were getting a certain set of questions and assumptions fed to them by their Seminary instructor. He was probably telling them, if you ever get to talk to a Protestant ask them this, then this and then this. . .
After reliving high school for three years I quit volunteering to go back to college. I enrolled in a Christian Apologetics program. The program was basically a great opportunity to audit some graduate level seminary classes without having to pay the big bucks or do any homework. It was a great program and a great learning experience. The program was run by Craig Hazen who is involved in some ongoing dialogue between Evangelical and LDS academics.
During this time my mom was asking me for help. She wanted to know how better to talk to Mormons. She was having LDS sister missionaries show up at her home; she would always invite them in and they would always end up in tears as they left. My mom has some seminary training under her belt and had been a Bible college professor while she was a missionary in the Philippines, so she knows her stuff, but is by no means confrontational. She was always frustrated that these girls would show up at her door and no matter what she tried, they would end up crying. I didn’t really have any good answers for her.
One day soon after completing the apologetics program I left my apartment and walked down the street to my car. Before I could make it I was rudely accosted on the sidewalk by a couple of Mormon missionaries. The words “rudely” and “accosted” may be an understatement. They yelled at my from about 50 yards away and came running up to tell me their good news. I wasn’t in a state of mind to talk with them and I was on my way somewhere else, so I attempted to cut the chase as quickly as possible with them.
Without giving a blow by blow of the conversation (which probably lasted 10 minutes) my tact was to show that a spiritual experience, no matter how profound should not contradict what the Bible clearly teaches. Just as I was making my point, while in mid-sentence one of the missionaries said, “That’s nice, we have to go,” and then literally sprinted away from me. His companion was soon in tow at the same speed. The word “sprint” may be an understatement. They both must have been in track.
After I gathered my jaw up off the ground I returned to my business and got in my car. I was extremely frustrated by so many aspects of the experience. I couldn’t believe the LDS church was sending out missionaries with such poor interaction skills. The only thing worse than how they started the conversation was how they finished it. I was frustrated with myself for having been so visibly annoyed by them and so quickly argumentative. Most of all I was frustrated that neither of us was expressing any genuine interest in the other. The missionaries had an agenda that they were intent on ram-rodding down my throat, and I had my own agenda that I was intent on ram-rodding down theirs.
My strongest thought in reflecting on everything that happened was “There has to be a better way. . . for both me and the LDS missionaries.”