Me & Mormons — Part 3

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.”

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15 thoughts on “Me & Mormons — Part 3

  1. “…tried to label us with seemed to be what someone else said we believed rather than what we ourselves said we believed.”

    I appreciated reading that.

    “…these kids were getting a certain set of questions and assumptions fed to them by their Seminary instructor.”

    Whether it was their Seminary instructor or someone else, this is appalling. Feeding anyone a question in any situation is contrary to the very nature of what a question is and is therefore a lie.

    “There has to be a better way. . . for both me and the LDS missionaries.”

    I hope you’ve found it, to some degree, here.

  2. Well, I sympathize. We do tend to fire off those 19 year old boys into the wild blue yonder on a wing and a prayer.

    Reminds me of an incident I had at our ward’s Halloween trunk-or-treat.

    I’m sitting in the back hatch of my car with one of my kids, handing out candy, when the “new elder” fresh from the MTC, comes sidling up to me.

    “So, how you doing?”

    “Just fine thanks.”

    “So… how’s your member-missionary work going?”

    pause

    “Fine….”

    “So, do you have any people for us to teach.”

    “Nope.”

    “None?”

    “Nope.”

    “That’s… really… sad.”

    Then he walked off without another word looking for his next victim.

  3. Tim said: 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.

    I can understand why that would frustrate you. That’s what frustrates me the most about dealing with evangelicals’ criticism of Mormonism. (I’m not accusing Tim of this.) And I especially have to laugh when I hear evangelical critics say something absurd like “Lot of Mormons don’t even know this because their leaders hide their teachings from them, but their doctrine is that we were in heaven with God before we were born.”

    Tim said: I couldn’t believe the LDS church was sending out missionaries with such poor interaction skills.

    Well, it happens. I hope ones like that aren’t the majority. Most of my contacts with the mssionaries before I joined the church were positive ones (but I can think of a couple exceptions). I often think that the missionary program does more to help these young adults become strong in the faith than it does to bring members into the church. There are some changes I’d like to see in the missionary program, but I’m reserving much judgment about that until my son gets back from his mission and I learn more about his experiences.

  4. I sometimes wonder whether the current system just favors expediency over caution. There are a lot of people who are joining the LDS Church at the hands of the poorly trained and immature missionaries. If we took the time to train them more carefully, perhaps there would be fewer “mistakes” but also fewer converts. And I wonder if we won’t see a shift over the next few years or decades as times change and call for a more trained missionary force.

    To put it in terms of a parable: sometimes it’s appropriate to scatter seeds all over the field—somewhat haphazardly—while other times it’s best to carefully plant each seed.

  5. I often think that the missionary program does more to help these young adults become strong in the faith than it does to bring members into the church.

    It’s definitely my opinion that the LDS missionary program is more about converting the missionaries than anyone else. The converts the missionaries happen to bring in are just a side benefit. It’s no coincidence the church is taking young people at their most impressionable age and exposing them to nothing but the Church and it’s work for 2 full years.

  6. Well, it sure beats spending a Spring Break drunk in Tijuana.

    At least Mormonism (and other churches, I’d imagine) provides its youth with a direction. Even if they grow to resent Mormonism and rebel against it, at least we’ve provided them with a direction and purpose in life, which is better than providing no guidance at all.

  7. Great insight, everyone! I don’t have time to comment further, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate the even-handedness everyone is attempting (successfully, I might add) to employ in discussing this potentially controversial/devisive issue. I hope to find more time during the holidays to get more invovled in the discussion.

  8. I’ve interacted with I don’t know how many LDS missionaries in the course of my life so far. Beginning way back when I was a 21 year old RLDS studying abroad, until a few months ago. I’ve never known any of them to be anything but kind and polite. Of course, I’m pretty up front with them, I let them know right off the bat that I’m RLDS. I would never be antagonistic towards them, or say anything rude. My father grew up in a mixed family–his stepmother and step siblings were LDS, my grandfather and his children were RLDS. I have one Aunt who is their child– my Dad’s half sister. Am not sure which religion she ended up choosing. Anyway, this definitely made a difference in the way our family viewed the LDS, we did not at all have the sense of rivalry that some RLDS felt towards our Utah brethren. My Dad actually asked to be baptized into the LDS church, but my Grandfather put his foot down, and persuaded one of his friends to move to Oregon and set up an RLDS mission, just so my Dad could be baptized RLDS. `My Dad attended the LDS church for the first 15 years of his life. His younger stepbrother was baptized and was given duties to perform–that’s what motivated my Dad to ask for baptism. He and his stepbrother were very close. I think the missionary program is a good thing, and I have nothing but respect for the missionaries. It was pouring down rain a few months ago–a real gully washer. I stopped my car and asked the Elders (Whenever I see missionaries, I always call them Elders) if they wanted a ride, but they said they weren’t allowed to accept rides. They told me it was ok, they didn’t have much farther to go. If it had been a bunch of born again Evangelical missionaries, I would have kept right on driving.

  9. If it had been a bunch of born again Evangelical missionaries, I would have kept right on driving.

    I’m pretty sure that’s the lesson “the Good Samaritan” is teaching us. 😉

  10. Yeah, well, as far as I’m concerned, I gave the Evangelical types every chance. When I gave Jesus my heart, when I converted, I understood that Christians were supposed to be the family of God. So I gave them my heart too, and it got stomped on. When I see a real change of heart taking place in the Evangelical world, when I see the word “Cult” no longer being used as a label for the LDS, when I see all the other anti-mormon nonsense come to a stop, on that day you can be sure I will offer Evangelicals a ride. It’s a two way street.

  11. WOW!! you sure have lots of “run-ins” with mormons. I bet at least half of what you say is false. Come on man. Everytime you turn around….

  12. That sounds like the strangest encounter with missionaries I have ever heard.

    This is an interesting blog. One of my best friends is Evangelical and we have some interesting conversations. Usually we agree to disagree on certain points of doctrine because different verses in the Bible can be interpreted differently. But I’m glad it has not affected our friendship.

    It’s definitely my opinion that the LDS missionary program is more about converting the missionaries than anyone else. The converts the missionaries happen to bring in are just a side benefit.

    It’s my opinion that is is the other way around. Converting missionaries has been a side benefit. The church has spent a lot of effort to change this though to make sure young men are converted before they leave.

    There are definitely good and bad missionaries. I was quite frustrated with the low number of good missionaries on my mission. I often felt I was there to help other missionaries just as much as I was to teach the gospel to the people in South Africa.

    It’s no coincidence the church is taking young people at their most impressionable age and exposing them to nothing but the Church and it’s work for 2 full years.

    Yes, God is all wise.

  13. “…I bet at least half of what you say is false…”

    eric, I’ve told the truth on this blog, and I know that God knows that I’ve told the truth. What you think about it is irrelevant and I could care less.

  14. “a spiritual experience, no matter how profound should not contradict what the Bible clearly teaches.”

    It’s a good thing Paul didn’t know that 😉

    Interesting series.

  15. I became a convert to the LDS Church while in the U.S. Air Force about half way through my 4 year hitch. I was called to a mission immediately after my mustering out at 23 years of age, so I was a little older than most missionaries. It was quite an eye opener to the missionary program. There were lots of problems for the mission Presidents to cope with. Some of the young men were there for the wrong reasons. One of my companions was there because his father promised him there would be a new Corvette for him sitting in the driveway when he came home. Several other missionaries were caught dating girls and were sent to a city where a chapel was being built and finished their mission there instead of being sent home. I suppose you should almost expect things like this. It shows human weaknesses and shouldn’t really reflect on the Church, but people who want to find fault with the Church will jump on things like this. I’m sure there are problems similar as this with all chuches.

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