A little over a month ago, while I was still living in Washington state, I began searching for a church home in the Chicago area in anticipation of my upcoming move. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’m kind of hoping to find a church with a female pastor on staff.1 I found one such church and after learning some details about the congregation in e-mail, I asked to speak with a pastor on the phone.
She called me a few days later, and at first the conversation went great. Her congregation sounded nice and we shared a lot of common beliefs. Then I brought up the issue of my husband being LDS and my need for a church that can be understanding of that situation. Things did not go so well from there.
I decided to write to her and respectfully challenge her attitude toward Mormons—and more specifically, her attitude toward what most Christians would regard as a part-believer family that was interested in coming to her church. The letter describes the specifics of how the phone conversation played out.
After writing this letter, I thought long and hard and deliberated with several evangelical friends (including Tim & his wife) on whether or not I should post this letter and whether or not I ought to identify the pastor and her church. People had differing opinions between letting it go and calling her out. Ultimately, I decided to give the pastor a month to respond and see if she would reconsider her attitude toward Mormons. It has been a month now with no response from her whatsoever.
Since I’m not identifying the pastor or the church involved, you may be wondering why I’m bothering to post this at all.
One, because this is a Mormon-Evangelical discussion blog, and this letter is probably going to be of interest to most of the participants here.
Two, because I hope it gives my fellow evangelicals something to think about. Regardless of our differing opinions as to what Mormonism is and how it should be approached, I hope we can all agree that Mormons should not be forbidden from visiting our churches just because they are Mormons, and Christians who are in interfaith marriages with Mormons need church homes, too.
Three, I hope my letter provides a good example of respectfully challenging a fellow Christian who is in error. If there was a better way to handle this situation, I’m certainly open to feedback.
My one fear in posting this letter is that it will add fuel to the fires of some persecution complexes out there—that there will be Latter-day Saints who read this and say, “See? This is how evangelicals always treat Mormons.” That doesn’t jive with my experience though. For my own part, while I believe people like this are a problem that needs to be addressed, I’m firmly convinced that evangelicals who act like this are the exception, not the rule.
Anyways, here is the letter.
Dear Pastor XYZ,
Our conversation has really weighed on my heart since we spoke last Monday. I’ve put much thought and prayer into this letter and I hope you’ll give honest consideration to what I have to say.
It was probably fairly obvious to you that I was disappointed by how our discussion went. I’m not a very assertive person in real-time exchanges; writing is and always has been my strength. As such I didn’t really tell you everything I wanted to say as you were speaking. It felt like when I began trying to explain to you my history with Mormonism and my interfaith family’s needs, it was as though your guard went up and the tone of our conversation completely changed. I don’t doubt for a moment that your concern was genuine.
I’m not really bothered that you hold the views on Mormonism that you do: that Mormonism is a false gospel which preaches a different Jesus (“the brother of Satan”) and that Mormons are deceived and going to hell. I wasn’t completely clear on your opinion of FreeMasonry and by extension the LDS temple ceremony, but you seem to be one of those people who holds its origins to be Satanic and/or occultic. I know very well that such an attitude is fairly common among evangelicals who have studied Mormonism, which is precisely why I’m trying to screen potential pastors and churches to see how they will react to my interfaith family situation. My husband has heard all those things before; they aren’t helpful. What he needs when he visits his wife’s church are people who will welcome him and treat him with love and respect.
What did bother me about our conversation was how you presented your information. As I began trying to explain my family’s needs, you repeatedly cut me off to inject your views on Mormonism. I could not even finish a sentence without you correcting me on how bad Mormonism is. Is that how you do ministry at your church? Interrupting people and lecturing them on how bad their problems are instead of first listening to them and letting them describe their situation in their own terms? Let’s say Mormonism is every bit as bad and as dangerous as you say it is. If I had told you that my husband was a raging alcoholic, would you have launched into a diatribe on how dangerous alcoholism is?
I may offend you horribly by saying this, but here goes: I really came away feeling like you misunderstand the purpose of church. It isn’t the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Mark 2:17) If you really believe Mormons are lost and deceived, shouldn’t you be doing everything in your power to get Mormons into evangelical churches where they can hear true preaching? And when an evangelical woman calls you and says, “My husband is Mormon and he wants to come to church with me once a month,” shouldn’t your reaction be, “Praise the Lord! Bring him to ours”? You’ve indicated that you feel like your church fills a special niche and you only look for a certain type of worshiper, but I’ll admit that confuses me horribly. I’ve never heard of a church which does not minister to the spiritually sick, or is selective in which types of sicknesses it tries to minister to.
One last thing. I understand that my husband was the one who picked up the phone when you called and that he decided to immediately quiz you on your views regarding Mormonism. I’ve since talked with him and he has agreed to let me be the one to discuss Mormonism with potential pastors. I have no idea how confrontational he may have been about it, but either way, that was completely unfair to you, and I apologize for that.
In February 2000, there was an article published in Christianity Today called “A Peacemaker in Provo: How One Pentecostal Pastor Taught His Congregation to Love Mormons,” about an Assemblies of God church in Provo, Utah. That church was my home while I was attending Brigham Young University and I believe the article shows how Mormons should be approached. I hope you will read it and think about it.
As you may have guessed, I won’t be visiting on the 23rd of August. I think we both know that currently your church would probably not meet my family’s needs, nor would I be the type of congregant your church seeks. My church hunt is going well and I have several very promising prospects to check out over the next few weeks, so I am going to devote my time and energy to those. I wish you and the congregation at [Church Name] all the best and I appreciate that you took the time to speak with me on the phone last Monday.
If you have anything further to say to me, feel free to contact me again by phone, mail or e-mail.
Bridget Jack Meyers
While the letter was still traveling in the mail (before she could have received it), the pastor e-mailed me. This is what she said:
Since our goal at [Church Name] is to release our people into ministry, I believe after our conversation that it would not be possible for me to release you into ministry. Therefore, I believe you need to continue your seach [sic] elsewhere for an appropriate church home for you and your family. We will not be seeing you, then, on the 23d of August.Sincerely,Pastor XYZ