How God Makes Mormons

Today I heard the first missionary discussion taught to a new investigator to the Mormon church, and it made me  suprised how effective the approach is, considering how un-compelling it felt to me. Perhaps I was just too familiar with the subject matter, too jaded, critical or skeptical (or all of the above) but when I tried to see the discussion through the eyes of the investigator (a 25 year old presbyterian from Cameroon) the content and delivery just didn’t grab me.

For those who don’t know. Mormon missionaries teach others about the church through teaching a series of core principles and leading people through a series of commitments. For those Evangelicals who want to become completely familiar with our subtle brainwashing techniques they can download their own copy of the complete missionary handbook “Preach my Gospel” here.  This manual probably provides as close as you can get to the “official doctrines” of the church because these are the elementary doctrines that the leadership has decided to have taught to all missionaries and every new member of the church.

The missionaries introduce the church with the idea that God lives  and sent his Son to save us and has always spoken through prophets and that he spoke to Joseph Smith in our time and that our church   They then explain the role and mission of Jesus, the pre-earth life, the fall and redemption through the atonement of Christ, and the potential to inherit various kingdoms of glory through making and keeping covenants.   They ask those interested in the church to read the book of mormon,  be baptized, come to church, quite smoking, drinking, having extra-marital sex and to pay 10% of their income in tithing.  This usually happens in the course of 2-3 weeks but times vary greatly.

Central to the entire process is teaching people about the Spirit of God and how to recognize it.  Essentially the missionary process is an attempt to invite people to receive personal revelation to become members of the church.

I didn’t feel the Spirit when they taught the first lesson to the young business student from Africa today,(Maybe I was too concerned with the annoying way the young missionary was bobbing his head when he spoke, not sure).  I have felt the Spirit dozens of times when I taught the same lesson on my mission.

Tens of thousands each year make these commitments and become Mormons, in spite of annoying head bobs or other foibles of the barely-post-teenage missionaries that teach people about the church.

The experience made me think about how Evangelicals would go about converting me or someone unintiated to the faith and the meaning and significance of the different approaches.

How would evangelical missionaries go about converting me  (other than through internet blogs 🙂 ) ?  How much of the approach involves teaching me how Mormonism is heresy vs. presenting a compelling alternative?

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12 thoughts on “How God Makes Mormons

  1. I would point you to scriptures on the nature of God and justification of the ungodly by faith apart from works. But I don’t accept so strong a dichotomy between negative heresy correction and positive preaching of a compelling alternative, because with movements like Mormonism that coopt traditional Christian language, clarification by way of contrast is inevitably necessary.

  2. The nearest Evangelical equivalent is called “The Four Spiritual Laws”. You can see it here: http://www.godlovestheworld.com/ The presentation takes between 5 and 20 minutes.

    There isn’t really a set “this is how you lead a person out of cult X and toward Christ” script. If anyone has one for Mormons it would be Aaron, Shawn McCraney (sp?) or the Tanners.

  3. Whether the person is evangelical or LDS (or none of the above), I don’t think in most cases that the person is going to be led out of his or her faith unless the person is in some way dissatisfied with what he or she already has. If you’re not predisposed to listen, you probably won’t waste your time doing so.

    Of the people that my son, when he was on his mission recently, served in their conversion process, all of them had some serious life issues going on. Although most had a church background of some sort, none were active at the time in a church.

    I’m somewhat of a rarity in that I was active in an evangelical church (although I hadn’t become a member because of some theoological issues I had) before I joined the LDS church. I can’t say that the missionaries were all that big of an influence (I knew more than they did about most of the issues that were of concern to me), but most of them did give me a positive impression of the church. Many of them wanted to know what I believed (and the typical response was, “Well, that’s what we believe too,” and indeed it turns out that I had many LDS-compatible beliefs before I ever seriously considered the church). I did appreciate that fact that they sought common ground.

    I don’t cease to be amazed at the changes some people make in order to join the Church. (For me, there was no change in lifestyle required except for giving up the occasional cup of tea). I have even seen people get married in order to become members. The message of the church can be a very powerful one.

  4. Every Mormon is different, so evangelizing to each is tailored to what is learned about them. But what every Mormon—every human—needs is the same: the Jesus Christ of the Bible. “Scripts” help give us a pattern for communicating common threads.

    I was saved by, among other instrumental things, reading Romans. And Romans has some serious polemical aspects to it. I cherish it all (positive and negative aspects), because it was Paul’s way of drawing out the clarity of the gospel. That’s one reason why I’ll never give up (God-willing) mingling heresy refutation with other elements in a gospel presentation to Mormons. Ironically, the positive truth of God and the gospel is just too precious and beautiful and compelling to give it (the “negative” aspect) up!

  5. Jared,
    First of all, I think the LDS person would have to be vulnerable to conversion in some way. I was RLDS when I converted, but, in the year before, the RLDS leadership came out with a revelation calling women into the priesthood. There was already a growing movement of discontent in the RLDS church, and my sister and her husband were members of it. They would tell me very negative things about Wallace B. Smith (the RLDS prophet) all the time. Every member of my local congregation that I respected, admired, and looked up to, everyone of them was dead set against having women in the priesthood. Even my Mom laughed about it and was against it, and she hardly ever commented on church affairs, being that she only converted for my Dad and me and was, at heart, a mainline Christian. The RLDS 1984 World Conference was a deep blow to many lifelong RLDS. I think I remember reading somewhere that the Church lost a quarter of its membership in the years afterwards. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and that is a natural time for a person to rethink their life, and the things they’ve been taught to believe. I was reading the Book of Mormon during this time, and I came across some things that really, really, upset me. There was no one in the church who could answer my questions. The only people who would really talk about it with me were people like my brother, who had “become a Christian” years before. I just could never accept that 1984 revelation. When that thing passed, it was the beginning of the end for me, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Nobody ever said anything to me about the four spiritual laws or TULIP, or whatever. I remember hearing about salvation by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone, not through works–an idea that, to this day, I do not have a problem with. I also remember them telling me to read the Bible alone, that it was the word of God. That is another idea that I do not have a problem with, although over the years I have come to believe that while Evangelicals may talk about salvation by grace alone, once they’ve got you in their clutches, the grace part goes out the window. In my opinion, way too many (not all, Ok:)) Evangelicals really “worship” the Bible. Far too many read stuff into it that I just don’t think is there. At one point in the conversion process, I quit talking to the Evangelical missionaries. They kept coming to my dorm room, and telling me I was going to Hell. In the end, I had my “born again” experience and converted. It was a real experience. There are books out there that document the tactics Evangelical missionaries use to win converts. While on the one hand, I can see the manipulation used, on the other, I have to say that it was a real experience for me. I truly believed it. (And still do believe some parts of it, as I’ve already mentioned.) That’s one of the things that made it so hard for me to walk away. Even though maybe the Evangelical missionaries themselves were out to win converts, it was still a real experience for me, coming to look at Jesus Christ in a way I never had before.

  6. I appreciate Tim’s response.

    Jared,

    I’m all for comparing different approaches. But let’s just make sure this doesn’t turn into another instance of comparing the best that Evangelical missionaries have to offer with the worst that Mormon missionaries have to offer.

  7. It occurred to me that the LDS missionary script contains heresy refutation as well. Any preaching about “the restoration” is talk of doctrinal inadequacy or error.

  8. Tim: yes, loads of heresy refutation in the LDS discussions. As a missionary, I taught mostly Catholics, Baptists, and Assembly of God members (Assemblists?)—there had to be some compare and contrast going on.

  9. Tim,

    I agree that Mormons teach contrast with other (apostate) christian beliefs and church. Joseph’s story is about deciding which church to join and Jesus himself telling him not to join any of those available. The story itself is compelling in that regard. On the mormon side you have the actual quoted words of Jesus and on the evangelical side you have differing interpretations of scripture. I think that mormons should agree that you can interpret scripture differently than LDS beliefs, however we believe the way we do because this interpretation was backed up by modern revelation.

    Also, if you review the Preach My Gospel handbook, you will find that missionaries don’t teach scripted lessons anymore.

    Seth,

    I am not trying to knock the church or its missionary efforts. the missionaries I heard on Sunday were far from the “worst” they were the APs in this mission and the mission president was present at the discussion. My point is that the message did not seem particularly convincing to me. However I much prefer the simple, straightforward testimony to the emotional manipulation of the “Way of the Master” e.g.

    Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort are what I usually think of when I picture Evangelical missionaries

  10. “Scripted” doesn’t necessarily mean scripted like a play. Preach My gospel notwithstanding, Mormon missionary work is absolutely rife with scripts.

  11. Don’t get me started on Comfort/Cameron. It’s the classic “you’ve been served notice” approach. Quite effective even 50 years ago, now it just makes us look like jerks.

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